Blindness in the Jungle

One of the first things I noticed when we deplaned was the oppressive blanket that the locals shrug off as normal weather. I adjusted because I was so excited to be out-of-country, on my first big international trip, and equator-land with its toucans and monkeys and snakes and bizarre foods is gorgeous and wild to an aspiring world traveler. I never expected to regret one moment of this adventure.

But there I was, nearly 18, sitting next to my mother on a tour bus with 15 other people, mostly classmates who had also decided to take the class trip to Brazil. My ex-boyfriend sat behind me, desperately trying to catch my attention; my two best friends sat across the aisle playing "Are You Nervous Yet?" as they gradually slid their hands higher up each other's thighs. The lush, emerald-green rainforest blurred by as we clunked along the road. But I was immune to all of this as I sat with my arms crossed tightly over my chest, ignoring everything in a futile attempt to block out the skull-crushing pain in my eyes.

Before we'd left the dorm earlier, my mother had pulled out insect repellent cream containing DDT and announced matter--of-factly, "You need to put this on just in case of bugs with malaria. Just don't get any on your face. And donít rub it in because itís poisonous and can really hurt your body if you absorb too much." Excuse me? You want me to rub poison onto my body? My mother insisted I stop protesting in order to save myself from the dangers of the jungle.

Being an obedient child (and not wanting to hear about it on our three hour ride to the village), I patted some onto my arms and legs. Within five minutes of stepping outside, I knew I'd made a mistake, but it was too late. In the sweltering stickiness of the day, fumes of DDT-laced repellent floated into my eyes and trapped themselves under my contact lenses. My eyes swelled up so quickly that I went from full visibility to slit-eyed puffiness before I knew anything was wrong. I shoved cheap sunglasses onto my face which helped make the pain tolerable enough that I didnít feel like screaming. Every moment was a slow death anyway, and I longed for the chance to make it go away.

We finally reached the village after several unplanned delays along the muddy road and were greeted by a clamoring horde of young children in faded clothing. Never one to admit how much I hurt, I attempted to engage this cheerful bunch and be a good example of an American traveler. One little boy, Hobs, kicked a soccer ball toward me. We began a game of back-and-forth when all the once the sky opened and poured out enough water to obscure the rest of my vision. Clumsy at the best of times, I staggered my way to shelter under the eave of a nearby building. The water in my eyes made the pain almost unbearable as it mixed with the oily mess under my contact lenses.

My best friend shook my shoulder and said something. I could barely hear her over the noise of the rain but saw she was pointing to something. Squinting, I saw Hobs in the middle of the street shouting, "Hey, hey, hey!" and jumping up and down. He kicked the ball at me, and it hit me in the shin. On impulse and no longer caring if it hurt, I rushed out into the rain and continued the game, which Hobs of course won, much to his delight. The downpour soon settled into a light rainfall, and as I blinked my eyes, I noticed the pain was gone and my vision restored.

"Oh, thank God," I breathed. Hobs ran over to me, and we exchanged high-fives. "Obrigada," I told him. "Hey!" he said, grabbing my hat and plunking it onto his head. I handed him my sunglasses and took his picture. "Keep them," I said, hoping he understood. He did and ran to show his friends. I rejoined my group who mostly stared at me like I'd lost my mind. After all, who wants to make a three hour bus journey in soaking wet clothing? How awful.

But for me, nothing could be more worth it as I took my first full look at the beauty of the day.

J M Brown

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