Living in Guatemala with children: disease, bugs, and waste…oh my!
We have had a full couple weeks. Still heavenly, but a heaven with Giardia, unexplained vomiting, head lice, chiggers and biting flies, and Chicken Pox.
More on the diseases of Guatemala
The school had outbreaks of head lice and Chicken Pox and though we resisted at first, we eventual succumbed. I have had quite the ‘bout of Giardia—complete with sulfuric burbs and all—but seem to be on the mend. Zella Rosa had a round of unexplained vomiting. This time she managed to make it to the bowl everytime and displayed an incredible ability to cover 50 yards FAST with her hand over her mouth.
Mending from Giardia naturally has meant 10 days of LOTS of raw garlic, Grape Fruit Seed Extract aka GSE, colloidal silver, black walnut tincture, Echinacea (until I ran out), Thyme/Berberry, and worm wood tea (disgusting and, turns out, hallucinogenic and toxic and not for nursing mothers. Oops. Sorry Zada Mae.) It also meant no wheat, no sugar, and no alcohol for that time.
It took about two weeks, but this routine did seem to cure me of the Giardia. (Giardia is a VERY hard to kill, water-born parasite. The doctor told me that to boil Giardia out of water it must be boiled for at least 20 minutes and then boiled again for another 10 minutes. After this bout of Giardia, I got much more disciplined about soaking all vegetables, not eating at restaurants with questionable practices in regard to washing their vegetables, and using only filtered water for washing with a sterilizing rinse for silverware and plates afterwards.)
Chicken Pox is one of those childhood diseases that are nice to get out of the way while your children are young as the risks are greater as they age. The doctor I went to was great and unphased by seeing Chicken Pox: “Everyone here gets Chicken Pox.” Varicella (Spanish for Chicken Pox) is a virus. His advice was basically just to keep Zella as comfortable as possible and to avoid too many medicines, etc. They are most contagious right before the spots appear and at the beginning of the pox and are considered safe to be around by the time the pox start crusting over. I treated Zella with some homeopathic remedies, colloidal silver, and lots of a Tea Tree Oil spray to help calm her skin. I also gave her baths in oatmeal. She had two nights where she was really uncomfortable. Her fever didn’t seem too high, but she definitely had one and she was so out of it that she was border-line hallucinating. During the day she was tired and cranky, but basically fine. And within just a couple days she was running around and full of energy like usual. Because so many of the kids there had already had Chicken Pox, she still had friends to play with during the day.
We almost got away without this one, but after every other kid we were hanging with succumbed, I found a few gnits in Zella’s hair. That girls got a lot of hair. Head lice seems as epedemic in Vancouver as it does in Guatemala and most people’s theories in the West are not backed by science.
For instance, there is no science to back the claim that we have more head lice now because we use less DEET or other pesticides in the environment. No science to back it up and even experientially it doesnt make since: Guatemala is riddled with pesticides, like DEET, that have long been banned in North America and lice is everywhere there.
Another theory: that it is a plague of the poor and the Middle and Upper Classes don’t get it as much. Once again, not backed by science and, again, even anecdotally this is easy to discount. There is as much lice in the expensive daycares and boarding schools in North America as there are in the public and free schools. Lots of people don’t feel comfortable talking about lice, however, and many parents in North America have NO IDEA how to look for lice.
The truth about head lice? “Head lice are not a health hazard or a sign of uncleanliness and are not responsible for the spread of any disease,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. In the U.S. alone kids get between 6 and 12 million cases a year. Once you know how to treat head lice, it is annoying, but not that hard. Read this blog about How to treat head lice (and keep from getting it next time). (Without exposing your child’s developing brain and organs to toxic pesticides. )
A note on waste
The waste thing never stops to amaze me. Intellectually, I know there is no “away,” but when garbage, recycling, and waste just disappear it is easy to live as if there is. Here, nothing disappears. There are the things we burn—including toilet paper because you MUST NOT FLUSH it. Then there is the plastic, which they very recently stopped burning in this village. The plastic, metal, and glass go to a recycling centre where it is NOT clear what happens to the stuff—some say it is just taken to Guatemala City and landfilled or burnt there. And then, there the disposable diapers. These are taken in a separate bag to the recycling centre where I am told, you have to point to them and say: “These are diapers.” (In Spanish.)
All of this sorting happens at our house. The poopy t.p. is dumped in with anything else that can possible by burnt without killing us—and then every week or so when the wind isn’t too high and the hours are right—our guardio burns it. The “recycling” he drags down to town. I am glad to report he only had to do this about every three to four weeks.
More on diapers
I can’t even believe I am writing about this, because I am filled with absolute guilt about it. Please shut the confessional door. I am prepared for any number of Hail Green Mamas in repentance. However, I have occasionally put my baby in a disposable diaper at night. I know it is wrong! I am doing it because 1) I can’t keep up with getting my cloth diapers clean and aired dry by night and 2) She gets an awful diaper rash if I leave her too many nights in the cloth and 3) She wakes up more on the nights she wears her cloth diapers. I must confess this whole thing.
Disposable diapers in Guatemala are even more awful than in North America. My relatively guilt-free disposable diapers without the chlorine, plastic, and perfume DO NOT exist in Guatemala. Instead, they have these awful Huggies that hardly work and are full of perfumes, chlorine residue, and other nasty stuff. I have to travel by boat or Tuk Tuk three towns over to find any diapers that are simply free of perfume (yet still full of the other junk). (ALL of the toilet paper here is also perfumed, including the recycled stuff, as is ALL of the laundry detergents. Yuck. When I asked about it at the store they laughed at me and said, in Spanish of course, “Here we like perfume.”) Also, about the supposed Huggies, I’ve been using. I have never used a Huggie in North America, but I am beginning to suspect these are the real things: they are all misshapen and the little patterned part in front looks like it has been Xeroxed and taped on…. It is possible that Huggies just manufacturer a lesser product for distribution here, and strangely enough throughs all there remaining perfumes (which, I must remind readers are neurotoxins and allergens!) into them.
Thus, despite the work of cloth diapers in a place with no washer, no dryer, and no running hot water, cloth diapers are still a life-saver here. Everyone has asked me where I got them, how much they cost (they ask how much EVERYTHING costs though). The cloth diapers the local use are just bits
of cloth tied around the baby.
A note: You can hardly believe my joy when my husband came to visit at the end of our trip bearing a gDiaper and a bag of inserts. One gDiaper and those beautiful, chlorine-free, plastic-free, and FULLY COMPOSTABLE inners. Oh, the joy! The relief of my conscious! The relief of Mae-la’s bum! I wish, wish, wish Guatemala could have gDiapers. Could g be for Guatemala? Those, mixed with my cloth diapers, were perfect.
Another note: By the end of the trip, Zada Mae was nearly potty-trained and can wear underwear for most of the day.
Besides the diseases and the waste issue, the other thing that keeps it from being heaven here are the bugs. There are LOTS of spiders (not actually an insect), biting flies and ants (hundreds of ants take over our place every night). There are also scorpions, beetles, and other things that fly and are gross.
Other Third World realities
The electricity just went out again here. Saturday night it was out for the night and the entire day (which coincided with me getting locked out of my room overnight; running out of juice on my phone; and the girls and I being alone in the house). San Pedro (where I get money AND use the fast internet) has been without electricity for a week.