Thursday, May 31, 2007

Theft and Illness in Good Ol' Georgia

Monday morning began normally enough. I reluctantly got out of bed and took a shower. But while shaving in the mirror I noticed a strange bump in the middle of my forehead. I’d noticed my sides ached earlier and pointed it out to my host mother. She said the pain in my side was probably from having the window open the night before. “Breezes cause backaches.”

“What about the lump on my head,” I asked. “Put some vodka on it,” she replied. This is supposedly good for bug bites. The bump didn’t itch, but it was far larger than a mosquito bite. “Is it a spider bite perhaps?” My host mother insists there are no biting spiders in Georgia. Pushing the memories of the numerous varieties I’ve seen in my room and in the kitchen out of my mind, I just nodded knowingly.

Little things like this happen all the time so I didn’t think much of it. But as the day progressed my sides began to ache worse and worse and I’d noticed another lump on my neck. Soon my nose began to swell. So I called the Peace Corps doctor and she told me to come in right away.

At the same time my girlfriend Paige was heading to Tbilisi so we met in Kutaisi to catch the bus to the capital. After being harassed by gypsy women for 10 minutes I got on the bus with Paige. As I walked up the stairs a strange man was standing in my way. He looked nervous and confused and I tried to squeeze past him. As I did he jerked me around by my backpack. I turned to face him, thinking it was some drunk jerk, but found myself facing a downcast man shaking slightly and looking at the floor. He awkwardly pushed past me and shuffled down the aisle and off the bus.

I felt like a jerk. The guy appeared to be both mentally and physically disabled and I’d turned on him like some kind of antagonistic jerk. I felt guilty, sat down next to Paige and told her what happened.

Then, as the bus departed Kutaisi I suddenly realized my wallet was missing. I retraced the previous 20 minutes and realized what happened. I’d been pick-pocketed by the apparently disabled man. He’d tugged my backpack to turn me so he could access my pocket while also distracting me from my wallet by suddenly requiring me to brace myself against the seat. Sneaky bastard.

I’m highly anal about keeping track of my wallet. Every time I get bumped in a crowd I check my pocket to see if my wallet’s been swiped. I’ve already caught one man with his hand in my pocket trying to steal my cellphone. That nearly ended with us fighting in the back of the bus. The police refused to do anything.

The more I’ve thought about it, the more I think the guy whot took my wallet was actually playing disabled, like some kind of act. Like in Usual Suspects where Kevin Spacey’s character pretends to be crippled, but it turns out he’s the mastermind.

I imagine the man shuffled off the bus in a nervous, shaky sweat. As he passed the kiosks and ice-cream carts he probably resumed a normal pace. Looking back, he probably watched my bus pull out of site. I imagine a grin flashed across his face. He probably ducked behind a wall, opened the wallet and discovered his stupid American victim had recently gone to the cash machine and withdrawn $120. Sucker. After that he probably called up some of his faux-handicapped friends and had one hell of a party.

Meanwhile, I was kicking myself for my stupidity on the bus. My face was continuing to swell and soon I looked like I’d lost a 10 round boxing match. My nose was broad and swollen and the bump was getting bigger.

By 10pm I looked like I’d bean beaten by angry genies who allowed me one wish, and I’d chosen to become a unicorn. The lump on my head was perfectly squared on my forehead, and growing. The other volunteers and I sat around and made jokes about my future on the endangered species list, or what potential X-man I might be. I seriously looked like I’d had my ass-whipped and was growing a horn.

The next morning, my whole body ached, the swelling had increased, and worse, it had now reached my tongue. With my swollen tongue I couldn’t pronounce my words very easily and the doctor hurried to pick me up. The whole day was spent drawing blood, taking various other samples, going to labs and answering numerous questions, and get injections in my butt cheeks. Not the best day.

That was yesterday. Today I’m feeling much better. The doctors suspect it’s some kind of food allergy. They don’t think it’s because I was sitting outside while my host father was spraying the grapes with some bluish pesticide 20 feet away (I was engrossed in my book and didn’t notice).

The swelling has gone down considerably, but I’m being kept in the capital for monitoring. Basically this entails getting more shots in the ass and having my diet restricted. The lady who runs the hostel I’m at has been given careful instructions on how to feed me, although it seems to conflict with what the doctor’s told me.

Since I'm in Tbilisi I actually have access to non-Georgian food and to be deprived of it is torture. I’ve begged the doctors to let me have coffee or burgers or Thai food but they refuse. There are various potential foods that could have caused the allergy, although I’ve never had a food allergy before.

“Maybe tomorrow you can have tomatoes,” the doctors told me. “And maybe the next day you can try cucumbers.”

Of course I was served both at the hostel the day before. After much pressure, they’ve finally agreed to let me have McDonalds today. We had to negotiate the menu, but finally they conceded to let me have a Big Mac, fries and a Sprite. No ice cream or ketchup and I have to remove the pickles. So in 30 minutes I’ll take my puffy face and aches and pains and head to the golden arches. There had to be a silver lining in this somewhere.


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