How Far Our Bodies Go

I worked hard in college. But I never pushed myself physically very much. While people around me would get in fights about whom was more sleep deprived, I can count on two hands the number of times I worked past midnight. The typical cycle of exhaustion mediated with caffeine and exacerbated with alcohol was, for me, interrupted by a careful diet and obsession with running that kept me far from the norm.

There were a few times during my four years when I felt like I was missing out on something. I remember particularly one midterms week my junior year when Professor Harris assigned four five-page essays to be completed within forty-eight hours. Excitedly, I realized that this was my chance to have a true Princeton sleep-deprivation experience. My unwillingness to procrastinate couldn’t save me this time! I’ll admit that it felt like a rush, staying up all the way to 2 a.m. I now can say, though, that was just child’s play. (Jordan, I have so much more appreciation for your lifestyle now).

In my six weeks in Uganda I have “pulled” twice as many all-nighters as I did in my four years of college. That doesn’t quite capture my exhaustion, though, since here all-nighters are often followed by twenty-hour workdays rather than sleep. Vivian has been keeping a log, and so far we are averaging well over 100 hours a week. Today (Editors note: by which I mean one week ago) was a day off, which in practice translated into working only from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Rarely have we had time to break for meals, so I’ve learned to get by on one meal a day.

Taking care of yourself in Africa takes time, a lot more time than I’m used to. “Showering” using a communal tap and a washbasin is complicated. So is brushing your teeth when you can’t drink the water. The same goes for washing clothes by hand. These inconveniences would be minor if it weren’t for the tight schedule we live under. As is, I’m perpetually dirty and smelly (a stark contrast with the Ugandan’s on the research team, who – despite living in the field under the same schedule and in the same conditions as I do – look immaculate every day, clothes ironed and hair done-up).

I’m not sure if it’s my non-existent diet, the lack of sleep, or the filth that has become engrained in every part of my body, but I have been essentially sick since I got here. First it was allergies, then pink-eye, then maggots. Last Saturday, I got food poisoning from the one restaurant that serves food I can eat in Masaka, and spent most of the day wondering whether I had malaria. Yesterday, I had a sixteen-hour work day – conducted entirely from my bed, because I was too weak to get up. I actually have time to eat right now, but I’ve been too sick to take anything for three days.

While I’m definitely tending towards being dramatic here, I do sometimes wonder why it is that I’m still doing this. Part of it is loyalty to my Professor, Delia, and part of it is some self-interested concern for my potential future in academia. But I think a big part of it is just the challenge. Every summer internship before this one, I’ve felt under-utilized. The pendulum has definitely swung in the other direction for this one. While I’ve only had one chance to run while I’ve been here – a pity, given what a distance-running Mecca East Africa is – I get, to some extent, the same rush from the way I am pushing myself here.

Final kick to the finish line, and then, I’m going to take a three-hour shower. With hot water.

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