The Spanish language school in Cuenca, Ecuador organizes a half-day visit to the rural areas for us students to experience more traditional traditions. We start out at a ceramics factory with a big open room drying thousands of mute brown colored mugs and bowls. The next room houses thirty women sitting at stations to add colorful designs ready then for the final room with the oven to glaze it all together. The tour guide explains their production numbers, the large orders they fill for weddings, how some of the designs are traditional while others are modern. He has a great sales pitch. The thought crosses my mind if I had one of these mugs and my friend was over drinking tea from it I could tell them all about this factory. I could remind them of how it just feels different to know where an item is made rather than some anonymous factory in China. Disappointed at the end with the reveal of the expense of such higher quality and then the logistical nightmare of traveling with such fragile items.
From there our group of twelve students and two teachers walk along the road to a restaurant. This restaurant is not listed in the travel guide. It is place where the people from the city go for special family occasions to eat a meal as if prepared by their great-grandmothers. The teachers have reserved a large table and pre-ordered all the food to insure that we all get to try the delicacies of the region. Specifically we have come to eat cuey – guinea pig.
In the modern world we rarely think about what animals are native to our part of the world, but indigenous peoples connect to meals passed down through hundreds of years. Animals like chickens, pigs, and goats are transplants to “the new world” of the Americas. Before the arrival of those animals – easier to domesticate and then butcher for meat – local peoples ate the local flora and fauna. In the Andes region it is grilled guinea pig.
The carcasses arrive at our table grilled on large sticks that puncture their small bodies from the ass through to the mouth. The animals are served whole and people take turns picking off pieces of meat. I wish I could say the taste was fantastic or even good because I hate to feel like the snobby foreigner unable to appreciate roasted rodent. But the flavor is that of old meat – it is tough, chewy, and the flavor of overly smoked. I pretend to love it, my teacher explains, “The cheeks are considered the best part.” So I reach and tear a tiny little cheek off a freshly killed and skewered member of the rodent order. After dessert we go back to the city.
On the bus back from the restaurant I bruise my tailbone. The cobblestone streets add a lovely ambiance but are not a smooth ride. The next day in class I cannot sit comfortably, it feels worse on my left butt cheek so I sit tilted. Later in the day Sophie invites me on a short jaunt out to a pool, “It is all from a natural spring but put into hot tubs and swimming pools. It is supposed to be really lovely.”
In the taxi ride I sit on my hands to act as shock absorbers. The fancy hotel with a magnificent warm water pool is just a short trip outside of the city. The pool glows from underwater lights, and dim spotlights shine above the café tables and chairs where couples sip at beers. In the water men float at the edges while smoking cigars and their round bellies rise above the water’s horizon. I find a more private area to lean against the jets of water pulsating with force and set my tailbone in front of one. The massaging affect seems good for the soreness until I have to get back into the taxi. This time my hands cradling my butt can’t muffle the pulsing pain. Back at the hostel I scurry into my room as a shout back, “Thank you Sophie that was great. I don’t feel so well, probably just car sick, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I strip down to take a shower, feeling my tailbone area where there is not a bruise but in fact sits a large cyst. The cyst is taunt with thin skin full of blood. I press it some and it bursts. Blood is dripping down my thighs and puss is excreting; the puss smell putrid, old and has a yellowish tone to it. Physically it feels relieving but emotionally I am full of shame. What is happening to me? What am I going to do? Should I go to the hospital now? Should it take some of the antibiotics that my mom packed for me? I decide to press as much out as I can while the shower water rinses it all away. I put a menstruation pad in my underwear and quickly fall asleep.
I wake up to find dried brown thickness on the pad and look in the mirror to see a small open sore with deflated skin around it. I need to know what is wrong. I need to go to a doctor. How the hell do I get to a doctor? No matter how embarrassing it will be, I have to find Sophie and ask for her help.
“Morning, um I need your help. I have to go to the doctor today, do you know where to go? And also I’m worried I won’t be able to explain with my crappy Spanish.” In that moment it is so clear that her five years on my twenty-six and linguist and cultural fluency exceed my own.
“Oh Amelie, of course I had to go to a doctor a few weeks ago to get a prescription. I think we should go to the same place.”
We grab a cab to arrive at a cement building, big and clean, with doctor’s offices. I don’t know how the appointment request was made, what circumstances were explained. Sophie sits back down next to me, “It will be about an hour. And it will cost $40 for the appointment and then more for the medicine. Do you want me to go in with you?”
I am going to have to show the doctor my butt. And what are the words for cyst, puss, infection, throbbing, sore. I just have a mysterious growth on my butt that I am afraid will become infected.
“Yes I think I need you to help me explain it and also translate what he says to me. The thing is, it is on my butt, so I might have to show it to him and that is really embarrassing.”
Sophie laughs a little, but without malice, just in the way that any reference to an ass makes us all smirk a little.
The doctor explains to Sophie the name for this particular cyst, but she is not familiar with it, so he writes it down on a piece of paper – piloneadal cyst. If I had today’s internet then in 2006 I would have immediately done some research. But in 2006 the internet did not travel in our pockets and it was very slow. But today’s internet explains this common condition as occurring mostly among males ages sixteen to thirty who have excess hair, especially hairy butts. It is a very deep cyst that forms when bacteria travels down a hair shaft, it is very painful, can recur, and the only conventional treatment is surgery – which only has a fifty percent chance of non-recurrence. I am just the lucky, rare woman without excessive hair (I swear I have a smooth enough rear end), who eats relatively healthy but is prone to skin issues. The doctor writes me a prescription for the strongest antibiotic available while explaining the directions to take one, then wait a few days and if the area of the wound does not heal to then take another one. He instructs me to keep it clean and covered at all times.
After a few days of recovery, my time in the quaint colonial city is at a saturation point when the sense of discovery and danger fades, leaving the streets familiar and the days routine. I respond well to the medication and I can put the whole thing behind me.
BIO: If Amelie Rose Baker had a catch phrase it would be ‘It’s a long story’. So she decided to start writing them down. After ten years as a high school history teacher she is certain that if she can maintain the interest of thirty teenagers at 8 in the morning, then her writing can engage a broad audience.