How to Catch a Cold

Seventeen months of experience often makes me feel like a crusty sea-hardy captain navigating the waves of living in Armenia without breaking a sweat. Nothing phases me anymore. Nothing surprises me anymore. And I am harder pressed to find the learning experiences that were so abundant for so long. But, 17 months is 17 months, not 17 years, so there are still some days that kick my ass.

I recently had one of these days. It started out with a slight twinge in the stomach. Not cramping, not bloating, not pain, not nausea, not anything I can describe. Just a little feeling of “all is not well”. While not particularly hungry, I forced down some cream of wheat* for breakfast to get me started off right. I then laid down for 10 minutes before heading off to the Y.

*I recently learned the Armenians consider cream of wheat to be baby food. It’s one of my 2 go-to breakfasts in country. I can only imagine what the store clerks must be thinking when the giant male American constantly patronizes their stores for baby food.

At the Y things went from weird to worse. Already decked out in a button down and brown sweater (which doesn’t match anything in my wardrobe but I’d rather be warm, sorry fashionistas), I found myself colder than usual. I resorted to putting on my jacket. I was also quite sleepy and a bit achey. I wasn’t sure if these symptoms were from illness or just from other things (waking up early, working out, cold weather).

After a couple hours it became obvious that I had a fever. I went from cold to hot and back again over and over. The achiness continued and all of the sudden I felt like it was the onset of flu. On top of this, I had no appetite, which was the first sign of something wrong to my coworkers. It was also the first in a long series of volleys back and forth with them about my new illness.

Kevin, eat cake!
No, I don’t want any thanks.
No, come on, it’s really good.
No, seriously.
(Sets a plate of cake on my computer)


Why didn’t you eat the cake?
I don’t have an appetite.
Maybe I’m sick?
Eat the cake!!

They are notoriously pushy when it comes to anything hospitality-related. They wanted me to eat that cake as if their reputations were staked on it. That led to more questioning.

You’re red Kevin! You’re sick.
Yeah, maybe.
Is your nose runny?
Does your throat hurt?
What’s wrong?
I have a temperature I think.

3 women come feel my cheeks and forehead simultaneously, including 1 of my English club students.

Wow, you really are sick Kevin. Take some cake and go home.
I don’t want the cake.
Why are you sick?
I don’t know.
It’s because you wore a polo shirt this week.

According to Armenians there are many ways to get sick. The common theme amongst all, besides lunacy, is coldness. Okay, sure you can get sick from being cold perhaps. But I would like to suggest viruses as the primary cause of a cold! There is something called science that can back me up.

Were your feet cold?
If your feet are cold, you will get sick.
I haven’t heard that.
But why are you sick?
Maybe I ate something bad.
Onion maybe.
No, onion makes you healthy, not sick.

Did you throw up? (asked in front of the whole office)

There is always the “cultural sensitivity” to worry about. What does that mean in non-Peace Corps parlance? It means tiptoeing on eggshells at almost all times and resisting the urge to revert to what you would do back home, which in this case would be to go berserk at the madness they were offering.

Kevin, eat a wafer!
No, I don’t want it.
Eat the wafer!!!
I’m being serious, I don’t want the (f’ing) wafer.
HE DOESN’T WANT THE WAFER. (Varditer’s husband, the only other man in the room, aka The Boss)

Usually I am more than patient. But that day I couldn’t handle much more. It was a mistake to stay there. I should have left right away. To endure their badgering was almost worse than being sick. Finally, after turning red in the face a few more times (not from fever but from embarrassment at more fussing over me) I left to go home. I learned my lesson.

Although at home I just wanted to escape and not be bothered, I knew they wanted to help me. Varditer wanted to make me food. I told her 10 times that I didn’t want it. But I knew to leave my phone on, even though all I wanted to do was sleep, so that she could call me and give me the food. Sure enough, 3 hours later she had her son bring over food. And then another coworker called to check in. And another texted. And Varditer called the next morning to see if I was okay. And she told me she couldn’t sleep and was looking across the street at my windows to see if my lights were on or off during the night. I’m glad I didn’t let the American independent streak offend them, because it’s obvious that they care, even if sometimes it’s hard to handle.


2 Responses to “How to Catch a Cold”

  1. Wayne Burt Says:

    Slow week, huh? Hope you’re feeling better!

  2. Peter Says:

    Sheesh! I don’t know how you made it that long without an outburst!

    Girls just have to say “I have cramps” and nobody bothers them the rest of the day. Just another example of how much easier they have it than guys!

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