Do you get sweaty bum cheeks too?

Week one of volunteer work in Parcila and my feet smell and my nails have a layer of black muck under them that I’ve been trying to get out on an hourly basis but I think their appearance of cleanliness only lasts about 10 seconds, if achieved at all. Buying baby wipes is on the top of my to do list whenever I find myself in the vicinity of a shop. I spent my youth riding horses and mucking out stables, but that even hasn’t prepared me for how dirty my hands are on a secondly basis here. And to make matters worse, the locals are obscenely clean all the time. I have absolutely no idea how they do it, but they’re spotless. Even their trainers are clean. I can’t even keep my trainers clean in a city! Never mind along dirt and gravel roads. My hygiene has gone completely out of the window and my little bottle of hand sanitizer hasn’t a hope in hell of saving me for the impending episodes of diarrhoea.

On arrival we discovered that we have an outdoor long drop exclusively to ourselves. What a luxury, because initially it didn’t smell at all… unfortunately a mere four days later it bloody stinks and the only people we can blame is the two of us using it. Filthy. Luckily the 5 litres of water consumed a day seems to be evaporating out of my skin before I can think of going to the toilet, so the smelly trips are saved for those times of desperate need, like when the rice and beans mixed with who knows what bacteria from your dirty little hands has got the better of your stomach. Interestingly, we do have to share our toilet with a huge number of flies who like to bump into your bum whilst seated. And a lizard who quite disconcertingly definitely lives just under the seat of the throne. Sharing is caring I suppose.

One thing you can say bye to here, apart from general hygiene of course, is cold water. This may sound like a small bump in the road, but believe me, after your third litre of nearly tea worthy temperature water in just one day, you’re going to be dreaming of an ice-cold highland spring. I’ve almost forgotten what cold tastes of. Heaven, I imagine.

I’m not entirely sure when I’ll get over being sweaty, but I hope it’s very soon. I’m getting a little fed up of leaving sweaty bum cheek marks on every plastic chair I sit on. Apparently necessity doesn’t stretch to a nice sweat-absorbing cushion or even a towel for my derrière. If I could wear leggings or black jeans to absorb the sweat I’d be fine, and frankly even being butt naked doesn’t make a blind bit of difference. It’s at least 30 degrees and sweltering by 7am. There’s no aircon, no cold water… no escape. Inescapable heat. The only time I feel anything close to cold is for one short moment during the early hours when I wake up and look for the pillow-sized rug I have as a blanket. And I can tell you it’s not a relief because since being stung by a scorpion I spend my nights in terror of finding a gap in my mosquito net/cocoon.

Apart from scorpions we have a lot of new friends… There definitely seems to be an ant’s nest somewhere very close to my bed. The house cockerel has somehow attuned himself to our morning schedule because he brings his little posy of hens around to the outside of my wall and he calls his little lungs out to wake us up. If that fails, the oh so very elegant cows on the other side give a little bellow to ensure we’ve rolled out of bed and are on our way to brushing our teeth. After the morning routine of exercise, there is a big bucket of water to shower from which you share with the little hornet/wasp things that love to drown themselves on a daily basis. They’re incredibly possessive of the scoop you use to pour water on yourself, but showering in certainly a necessity when one is so sweaty, so it’s important to stick in there even if you do get the occasional sting on the bum.

Another slight issue is my incredible ineptitude at learning a language. I cannot for the life of me retain this kind of information. I can probably answer any question on the Harry Potter series, but if you ask me to repeat a word you said two minutes ago you’ll be very disappointed. The extend of my Spanish skills consist of saying I’m hungry, saying I’m tired and asking where something is, but I spend my time avoiding the opportunity to speak because I won’t be able to understand the reply so the limited knowledge I have is relatively useless.

Only one week in and I’m beginning to have doubts about the all carb diet scenario. I really hope to be over certain body issues at some point in my life, but I’m not sure that’s an achievement for the near future. At the moment all I can see is an enormous fat tummy filled with rice and beans a tortillas. I’m sure my body is working very hard to stay alive in the heat but I’m not entirely convinced that it needs three mountainous meals of rice and beans a day. I hadn’t planned to put on weight here but as it stands the matter seems to be entirely out of my hands so I can only hope that with great sweating comes great weight loss too.

Locusts round off an exciting first week of these new obstacles, and they are huge. I don’t know where my idea of locusts originated from; when I think of locusts I think of my 5th year Classical studies lessons. My classics teacher certainly didn’t prepare me for their enormous presence as they launch themselves from wall to wall in the confines of a small kitchen. Just picture the scene that unfolded — I was holding an orphaned day old chicken chick in my hand (who I named Rey from Star Wars, of course), my fellow UK volunteer screeching for her life across the table from me and host mama giggling whilst also trying to save our lives with flip flop/lethal weapon in hand. As the locust propels itself from wall to wall myself and my UK companion scuttle back and forth whilst alternating screams and giggles. The poor little baby chick trying desperately to have a nap in amongst my T-shirt. Eventually we run across to refuge in a doorway while I sit floor giggling incessantly and Jamie still screeching and Mama Rosa hysterically laughing at the incapabilities of her two UK adopted children.

One last experience from my first few weeks here is an enormous thunderstorm. I’m not sure how Parcila handles it but at 2am it’s pitch black, cold enough to need some clothes on and I can’t hear anything above the noise of rain and thunder. The lightening is lighting up my entire room in flashes and the almost simultaneous thunder sounds like its clapping right in front of my nose. The rain is so noisy and rapid it’s like being inside an old TV when it losing signal and goes onto the white fuzzy screen, like that scene from The Ring. I can literally feel the walls and my little bed shaking. One mad part of me thinks it would be sensible to pack a little bag of essentials and wait for the inevitable rescue transport to come and save us. Every time the rain sounded as if it was easing it comes back with a vengeance; it definitely doesn’t sound like it wants to stop any time soon. All I can do was sit in my cocoon and hope our collection of farm animals aren’t getting struck by lightening or washed away in the flood.

Needless to say we escaped the storm with our lives fully intact, and despite the discomfort of permanently sweating into my rice and beans and the fear of a foot escaping from the strangely short beds to create a breach in the mosquito net, all of this was experienced with a kind of unconditional love for the place. Each little obstacle rapidly became entirely normal and things like the language barrier and scary insects were adapted to within a matter of weeks. Even my hands magically became clean on a semi permanent basis without any conscious intervention. One unavoidable occurrence however was the sweaty bum cheek marks that are left on every surface you lay your arse on.