Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The kindness and heat exhaustion

Before arriving in Cuba, I had read about the supposed kindness of the Cubans, but it took me some days in the country before I actually managed to see real proofs of this unselfish kindness, in opposition to the profit induced 'kindness' of people wanting to 'help' you find a paladares or a casa or whatever you might be looking for.

But in general yes, it seems like most people are extremely kind and ready to help their neighbour without second thoughts. The problem is that as a tourist it is fairly difficult to get to know the genuine Cubans, those who do not try with all means to improve their situation by profiting on tourism. But sometimes you are lucky and there they are, even as a tourist.

On my first Saturday in Havana, I started feeling fairly bad about an hour after having awoken. I was feeling like I was burning up, nauseous and had lost all energy feeling extremely weak. The day before we had been out, and yes, I must admit, I had drunk way too much rum. And I had only eaten a tiny sandwich for dinner. That morning, I had yet to have breakfast as I was waiting for my Spanish class to start and was planning to go for breakfast afterwards. And it was hot! And humid! But like every day. I think what triggered my feeling of nauseousness was a cup of tea, prepared in the best of intention by the maid of the casa, but way to strong for my empty stomach. I say this now, but at the time, I could not really understand what was wrong with me. I thought it would pass, that I just needed to sit down in front of the fan for a bit, have some coke (diet regretfully as I needed sugar), and then I would be apt for the Spanish class. Alex, the man of the casa, came through the apartment at that moment telling me my maestra (my lovely Spanish teacher Ada) had arrived. I asked him to tell her I would just be a few minutes as I was not feeling that well. A couple of minutes later he came back asking if he could do anything for me, and then went and called for Ada's help as he was very worried. I guess now that I am writing this that I must have looked like shit, probably as drained of colour as I was drained of energy.

Ada came in and told me that we could skip the class that day and re-book it for the Monday after, and she suggested I go and get something to eat. I agreed, not saying what I was thinking: 'How the hell would I make it to a shop or restaurant in the heat outside in my weakened condition?'. But she must have guessed. She touched my arm and said I was ice cold. I protested that I was burning up rather. And then she took action, making sure I was brought some bean soup (the best one ever), some chicken, and plain white rice – and told me to eat. It was a tiny portion whipped up in a few minutes, which it took me about 40 minutes to eat as the energy required to just lift the spoon was almost unbearable.

It seems like I had basically caught heat exhaustion. But I only realised this a few days later when reading through some information about travellers health in the Rough guides to Cuba. Ada thought I had low blood sugar, which she was also right in. But supposedly as Cuba has such a hot and humid climate, which is harder to adjust to than a hot but dry climate, it means that I should have been careful of making sure that I was getting more water and salt. I was really good on the water and fluids in general, but had probably gotten low on salts. That's why the soup was a real life saver  salty liquid, what better can one ask for? ;) The symptoms of heat exhaustion are fatigue, headaches and nausea – so fairly close to what I was feeling. And one week in this new climate, coupled with a bit too much alcohol the night before and not enough food, nor salts – well the result was that I got one of my first proofs of real Cuban kindness and a taste of the best bean soup I have ever had! So not too bad after all.

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