Hi, my name is Caitlin, and I have lice. Over my holiday break in Ecuador, I made a discovery…I had lice. After traveling for several weeks with my family to Mindo, Otavalo, Quito, Cuenca, and finally Ambat,o my head started to itch, but I didn’t think twice about it. It started itching more and more, and then I started to worry.
I have the tendency of being really paranoid about getting sick and I’ll admit, I am somewhat of a germ-o-phobe. So, I had my sister check my hair. The verdict: LICE. I immediately started to feel dirty and gross. I had absolutely no desire to do anything except take care of the situation.
To double check I had my host mom come and check my head and she started to tell me that there were only dead eggs, but my sister saw a live one. I can’t tell you how disgusted I was. I started to freak out! My sister started to freak out too, however the only thing that my host mom said was, “tranquilo….solamente el shampoo y ellos se van.” Somehow I didn’t get any comfort from this statement. At the time we had a date with my host dad and parents to take a tour of Ambato, so I had no time to deal with the lice then.
When I told my host dad, he shrugged it off and told me to get in the car so we could show my parents around Ambato. “Suck it up,” he seemed to say. When I told my mom that I had lice, she seemed to shrink away from me. I sat between my mom and sister, both who were scared about those damn piojos. What a mess. I was one unhappy camper.
I somehow managed to stop thinking about it as we went to the market for llapingachos and cocomora juice. We made the trek up to Parque de La Familia where we had an amazing view of the volcán Tungurahua exploding. My parents were thoroughly impressed. Afterward, we went for Colada Morada, buñelos, and tamales.
That night I opened the box containing the lice shampoo, Veronique. It claimed, “elimina piojos y liendres en solo 10 minutos,” which meant that it could eliminate lice and their eggs in only 10 minutes! It seemed too good to be true. The directions were as followed:
Modo De Empleo:
- Moje bien el cabello y appliqué Veronique friccionando el cuero cabulludo y deje que actúe durate 10 minutos, luego enjuague con abundante agua.
- Remueve los piojs y liendres muertos con el piene especial.
It seemed easy enough, however I have some of the thickest and curliest hair of anyone I know besides my sister who was standing besides me deciphering the instructions as well. She was hesitant, but reluctantly agreed to pick through my hair with the comb that came with the shampoo. We spent several hours doing this using all sorts of supplies including: a flashlight, tweezers, a headlamp, and the comb that was supplied. Let me just say, it was one hell of a way to spend Christmas Eve. I would like to take this opportunity to commend my sister Julie for her bravery and willingness to help. I really appreciated it.
On Christmas day I decided to take my family to Baños. We walked around town, saw a live nativity scene, and shopped. We were hanging out when my sister spotted more eggs. I started freaking out again. I had my mom pick through a small section of my hair right then and there in the middle of Baños. After this, I went straight to a supermarket and b-lined it to the mayo aisle. Conveniently enough I turned around and there was the saran wrap.
We headed back to Ambato and my mother and I camped out in the bathroom for several hours as she picked through my hair. That night it was time for the mayo. My sister assisted me in this “task.” Let me just say that putting mayo in your hair is one of the most disgusting experiences ever. Now every time I see it, I have a pretty severe gag reflex. As I knelt my head forward, Julie squeezed the mayo from a bag onto my hair and I massaged it into my scalp. Seeing as this was such a ridiculous idea, Julie and I couldn’t stop laughing. The fun didn’t stop there as we wrapped my hair in layers of Saran Wrap.
The next day I told my host parents about the mayo and saran wrap and my host dad made a joke about also putting French fries and ketchup in my hair to top it all off. I just had to laugh. My Ecuadorian family must think we are crazy. Right then and there I realized that this incident with lice is probably one of the biggest differences in culture I have come across. When someone gets lice here, it isn’t a big deal. Go to the pharmacy, buy the shampoo, use the shampoo, and comb through the hair with the brush. Simple.
However, our American culture has taught us to thoroughly freak out! Do you remember those days in elementary school when you and the rest of the school went to see the nurse for lice checks? How terrifying was that? And if you were the unlucky one who had lice you were sent home and not allowed to come back until you had the “situation” taken care of.
Our methods of getting rid of lice include: washing EVERYTHING you own in scalding hot water, putting items in air-tight bags for more than two weeks, mayo-ing (yep, I totally just made that a verb all you English teachers) and saran wrapping hair to suffocate those critters, and spending endless hours picking through each strand of hair to be extra sure they are all gone. Even after this we are still paranoid. Every time our head itches the thought, “oh god, what if they aren’t gone?” pops into our brains.
I have come to the conclusion that we need to calm down. Take in my host mom’s favorite word of all time, “tranquilo.” How many of you hear that every time you freak out? I know I hear it constantly. I need to start embracing it instead of just thinking, oh Ecuador. As of now, I am lice free. After some more extensive scalp searching and removing of the piojos by my mother, things are looking good. I took all my clothes to the laundromat and had every item washed in hot water. I really need to thank my family for being so great as I was having a rough couple of days. My dad paid for my laundromat services and my mom and sister spent hours picking through my hair. I am so grateful to have them in my life. Although this experience was humiliating (only to me) and exhausting, it was also very humbling.
I will listen to my host mom, “tranquilo Cata, todo esta bien.” It’s the truth, everything is good. I don’t know where I got them from, maybe a bus, taxi, or sleeping in a hostel. Who knows. All I know now is that situations are what you make of them. If this happens to anyone while we are in Ecuador, call me. I can sympathize, help, and do my best to console. Let me end with the piojo support group slogan, “Hi, my name is Caitlin. I have been piojo free for 2 weeks now.”
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