I’ve come to believe that anything is possible in Cambodia. And I don’t mean the “reach for the stars and you’ll land in the clouds” kind of inspirational “anything”. I mean anything as in: dengue, malaria, Japanese encephalitis, rabies, scabies, mites, mold, rats, and the list can go on. I mean anything really terrible that probably wouldn’t be so terrible in the States but here you have to deal with a bunch of other things already so having any of the aforementioned would be nothing short of terrible. Even things like, say, lice.
Lice here is treated with an offhand “oh, she has lice”, sort of like how one would say, “Oh, she’s wearing a green shirt.” Occasionally kids would sit around and get de-loused by patient mothers and then go right back to running around and playing with more kids who have lice. I’ve seen my younger sister (9) sit around for hours getting de-loused, as my host mother combs neatly through her waist-length hair. In fact, there is usually a line of girl cousins, all patiently waiting their turn, as my host mother de-louses them all (she is the best de-louser on the block, apparently. My family is loaded with talent and connections).
Since getting here to Cambodia, I’ve been plagued with an unnaturally itchy scalp. I figured it was just my scalp adjusting to the humidity of this subtropical country, having lived in the desert atmosphere of California nearly my whole life. After a few months, though, I became slightly worried that the itching still hadn’t gone away, and this fear was escalated when I saw my mother with a trail of girls to de-louse. What if I have lice? How embarrassing. I like to think I keep clean, washing my hair every day and not rolling around in the dirt trenches of Cambodia. The other day, I even felt something moving around on my scalp. I reached up and started grabbing, and came out with handfuls of loose hairs. Amongst those hairs was a small creature, crawling about. I immediately squashed the shit out of it and looked at it closely.
Lice. Are you fucking kidding me, Cambodia? I fucking have lice? Unbelieving, I immediately went upstairs and googled what lice look like, paying dearly because my internet plan charges by data and loading all of those pictures was surely data-intensive. There you had it, though, plain as day blinking back at me from my monitor: a perfect match to the small creature still squished firmly between my left thumb and forefinger.
And yet, I still didn’t believe it, perhaps because I refused to acknowledge that I was plagued with such a disaster. Wikipedia said itself that the best diagnosis for lice is for someone to comb through your hair and look through your scalp to determine if you have little crawly creatures. And who better to go to than my host mother, the super de-louser?
I determinedly shelved my pride and went downstairs, politely asking my host mother to look through my scalp hairs for lice. She carefully combed through my hair in layers, and told me “att mien” (not have). I showed her the bug I had killed. She started laughing. “Jayee,” she said, in between breathless laughs, which translates to “flea”. We both looked over at our 3-week old puppy, sitting there biting its own leg and looking fuckin’ adorable.
A few hours later I go up to my room and see that there is a new bottle of dandruff shampoo sitting on my desk. Thanks, host mom.