I really wrote all of that stuff before so I could tell you this, my favorite story from the trip.
Okay, look. We’ve been through a lot together, you guys. So here is where I tell you that I was two hours into the road trip to Solola, at a gas station in the middle of nowhere, in a caravan where I still hadn’t learned everybody’s name, when I got my period.
THIS IS THE WORST THING EVER.
There were times on this trip where you really didn’t see anything that could be considered a bathroom and not an outhouse or a hole for like, eight hours. There were things I needed to attend to, and I really didn’t want to leave that many reminders of my trip behind. “Well, I spent three hours trekking to the forest for firewood, and then I spent about five hours making tortillas for my family, and then right before I went to bed I found some American lady’s used tampon wadded up and half-hidden in my outhouse. So, no, I don’t know if you’d call today a success.”
At one point I was thinking, “You know, I’d have, like, five or eight kids, too, if it meant not dealing with tampons and hand sanitizers and a number of the nasty personal moments I’ve had this week.”
I waited a couple of days and halfway between a two-hour car ride before I finally had to mention to someone that I was in need of some kind of real bathroom at least for thirty seconds. I told Nikki.
“I mean, I feel like I’m all The Red Tent here, but I don’t know what else to do.”
Nikki asked what The Red Tent is, and since I’ve never read it I ended up babbling what I thought it was about, which it wasn’t (I didn’t know it was fiction, for starters), but I knew enough to say that menstruating women were sent to this Red Tent until they were done.
“That is crazy!” Nikki said, because I had told her that this was, in fact, true. “Why would you do something like that?”
“I don’t know. People have weird customs when it comes to blood.”
“Well, we don’t,” Nikki says. “I mean, you can’t be in the kitchen when I’m making cookies, but everybody knows that.”
There’s a silence for a little while before I go, “What?”
Nikki gives me a very patient look. “You know. How you’ll ruin the mix.”
“With your menstruation. Your sight. Because it is so powerful.” Here she sighs, like I should already know this. “How if you look at the mix it will be ruined.”
I do believe this is the first time I ever cursed around Nikki, when I said, “Get the fuck out of here.”
“Pam. It is true!”
“I will ruin your cookies?”
“Or my cakes or pies. Anything you bake that has to be mixed. Maybe not bread. And it’s only during the mixing time. My mother will ask me and my sister before she makes cookies. ‘Are any of you menstruating?’ And if so, we have to leave until she’s done mixing. Pam, stop looking at me like that. It is true.”
“What happens to the mix?”
“It is ruined. It just is. You can taste it. It is ruined!”
“…because of yeast?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Me either! I’m trying to figure this out! What if I promise not to look at you while you are mixing the ingredients?”
“Now you are making jokes.”
“It’s real, Pam. Even I can’t make cookies if I’m menstruating. Someone else has to do the mixing for me.”
“This is amazing. What if the girl making the cookies is blind? And she can’t see the mix? Is it still ruined?”
“See, you are making jokes.”
“I’m not! I wish I could tell you we did something equally weird in the states, but we mostly just make fun of each other.”
I can’t find anything about this on the Internet. Back at the hotel, I told Robin about this, and asked her if the Koreans had any bizarre customs when it came to being on your period.
“No,” she deadpanned. “And I think you are being racist for asking. That is crazy, that they can’t make cookies.”
“I’m not being racist! I figured if anything the Koreans would have a good custom.”
So this died down until a couple of days later when the other Robin – a boy whose English/American name is Robin (which delighted everybody both Korean and Guatemalan when they learned that boys and girls can be named “Robin”), which made him eventually get called “Senor Robin” by everyone – came down with food poisoning or something. All I know is I thought he was falling asleep on the road, and then he quietly pulled over and yakked behind a gas station.
This caused much shifting of driving responsibilities, as we still had a long way to go to get back to Senor Robin’s place in Guatemala City, and I ended up in a car with Robin, Jeff and Senor Robin, who was trying to hold it together in the front seat. I passed up one of my
Emergency Plastic Bags
in case he was feeling sick on the road. Everybody was discussing in Korean what to do about how Senor Robin felt. Then Jeff, who was driving, was talking about something, using my name, and miming something like scribbling with a pen. I wondered if they were discussing whether or not I was going to write about this, when Jeff asks, in English, “Pam, do you still have your sewing kit?”
Sewing kit, part two
“Why? What’s wrong? Are you making fun of me?”
“No, we need it to make Senor Robin feel better.”
Robin turns to me. “We need to make him bleed so that he won’t be sick to his stomach anymore.”
And then I cursed for the first time in front of Senor Robin and Jeff when I said, “Get the fuck out of here.”
“We have to prick him, right along the cuticles, and then when the blood drains all the bad stuff will be out of his system.”
“You will, I guess. You still have those sterilization wipes, yes? And a needle?”
“Oh, my God. We are in a moving vehicle!”
“This is what will make him feel better. My grandmother used to do it. It works.”
“How does it work?”
“Well, you know how you don’t feel good sometimes, because you have food trapped in your arm?”
“NO, I DON’T KNOW. BECAUSE OF X-RAYS. You realize you don’t get to say another word about Nikki’s cookies, right?”
“Senor Robin is sick.”
“Okay. I’m getting the sewing kit. But can we videotape it?”
“Hand me your camera.”
Senor Robin didn’t feel better five minutes later. But it did make me wish I knew Korean. When we got back to Senor Robin’s apartment later that night (after taking Senorita Robin on a confusing trip to the mall to distract her while everybody else was making her surprise birthday party for our last night in Guatemala), Senor Robin held up his hands to show seven bandaged fingertips.
I started telling my Korean derby friend Risky A Go-Go about this, and she interrupted to go, “Did you make him bleed? Yes, my grandmother used to do that to my cousins all the time when they had stomach aches.”
(This, by the way, I did find on the Internet.)
I know I learned an awful lot about cookstoves and a very real health crisis requiring the need for sponsoring families in Solola. I saw extremely difficult conditions where people lived, I watched children carrying stacks of firewood on their backs, women holding machetes for both work and protection, and heard horror stories about children dying in tragic accidents that come from the need to gather this wood. And I know I’ve been asked to write all about this situation, to help get much-needed attention to the families of Solola. The thing is, this is the best story from the entire trip, and I really wrote all that other stuff just so I could tell you the menstrual-cookies-and-bloodletting story.
So if you liked it, please think about sending a few dollars to Good Neighbors. If anything so that I can keep going on these trips and report back to you about blood-related customs in other parts of the world.