Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Betel nut chewers and a high altitude weight-loss program in Bhutan

We sat in the MPH (big concrete assembly hall that is chilly right now, so must be unbearable in winter) this afternoon for 'Literary session', all the students were in rows of wooden seats, no backs, and the teachers had plastic chairs up the back (some of them snuck out their phones). It went on for ever, first the Junior story competition (8 readers) where you could hear not a word because the speakers were warping the sound in the huge echo-y room. Then there was a debate (four on each team) on 'Students should be allowed to use mobile phones and electronic gadgets at school'. The woman who brings tea in the mornings brought all the teachers a piping hot cup of sweet milky tea part way through and little cakes were handed out. I didn't eat the cake because my stomach is a bit sulky right now about things like food, and usually I don't drink tea after 2pm because it keeps me up, but I gratefully drank the whole thing (slowly - sulky stomach).

It is so important to do have competitions like that and to show that you value public speaking and debate, and it is such a great experience for the students competing, but an hour in all the students in the audience were fidgeting, some of the teachers had slipped out and words like 'interminable' and 'bilious' and 'Atreyu' and 'please no fart' started intruding on my thoughts while I fought to appear attentive on the outside.

I felt a strong bond of fellow feeling with the other teachers, and for a few moments forgot if I was here or at home. If any of my past students are reading this, of course I and all my fellow teachers were all always super attentive and appreciative at all competitions and presentations.

A couple of the teachers chew betel nut. I am not sure of the process, but it involves sprinkling lime on the betel nut to activate it and maybe wrapping it in some sort of leaf before you chew it. I caught wafts of it from time to time yesterday, but today at least three people near me partook during the speeches.

It is a strong smell that I find a bit stomach turning, even when my stomach is not already turning. The first smell is of lime, which I am familiar with mainly from when we used it to clean horse wee in the stables at school. I now appreciate why the other boarders found us so disgusting when we came up straight to dinner without changing. Then there is a sweet smell I can't identify, but in my mind it smells like 'red', specifically the orange red of betel nut chewers' teeth. Then after a while you get another dose of lime, but the lime that has been thrown in the muck heap and left for a few days. There are probably other subtleties that I am missing, but I am sure you can appreciate why.

I think it is the altitude, but I have no appetite. I have to make myself eat at mealtimes, but the only thing that goes down easily is water.

Two winters ago, after I got back into my kitchen, I was cooking cakes each weekend and inviting people over to eat them, but of course there were always left overs and it would be rude not to finish, right? My point is, I put on some extra weight and I have been trying to get it off again ever since, but it has been so hard because everything tastes so delicious and food is amazing and I pretty much always feel hungry. Whelp, I think that weight has gone already. And it is truly weird to not have that underlying nagging (maybe a little snack? maybe some cheese? you know what's going to happen if you don't eat right now? you are probably going to die, that's how you feel) and to instead have to remember to eat.

The things that people here comment on the most about me: I am very tall. I should be married already.


Birgit said...

Sorry to hear that you are not feeling 100 % Ceels, hope that changes soon.

Ceels said...

Thanks, Birgit! This is the first chance I've had to comment in a while. Feeling so much better now it's hard to believe how sick I was.