The morning of recovery always feels miraculous. In Lipu, 6:30am feels like clear air, cool breezes brushing my bare arms too light to rustle the orange trees.
A chicken pokes its tawny head up from behind a berm of pink gravel, silhouetting briefly with a pea tendril, then returns to picking at the purple flowers.
I’m not in top shape this morning, but I don’t have a fever and am not running to the toilet– for the longest stretch in three days! I get up because I want to, stand upright, comb my hair. Go outside.
This is Jia’s grandparents’ house. The family grows oranges here, the tiny super-sweet kind you can’t find elsewhere. The trees extend in rows around the house.
In the yard, there’s a low spigot for well water, where family members are constantly crouching to wash fresh vegetables: something leafy that might be lettuce; the purple flowers and their delicate, stringy plant base; a darker green herb with oval leaves.
The vegetables reappear in the main room, ready for immersion in the pot that bubbles on a hot plate for every meal.
Four chickens became three yesterday so I could have chicken broth to restore me. Jia’s mom filled a bowl with rice for me, scooped fresh fatty broth with a ladle, mixed in milk and extra salt in the spoon, then dished the restorative over the bowl.
She keeps encouraging me to try the balls in the hot pot, tofu balls stuffed with rice and taro by her sister over the course of the morning. But it’s more than I can make myself want. I’ve spent the last day shuffling through the main room from my bed to the outdoor squat toilet and back again, and I’m too tired to do it anymore.
But I’m doing much better overall. I sit in a chair and take in the simple layout: concrete walls form one big hall that opens to the outdoors at each end. The ceiling is high, and there are permanently open vents above the large doors, leading me to guess that winter cooking happens on an indoor fire, or at least did before electricity came here. Even now, a big pot is always heating in the backyard on cinderblocks over coals.
Recovery comes not a moment too soon. Much as I’d like to take long walks in the country, it’s time to start heading towards home.
Around noon, we load our packs into the car, ride with the cousin to Guilin to catch our train to Nanning. We have early flights out in the morning.