By Rick Grijalva
Living on the Colombian Coast has opened my eyes to many previously unknown dangers of daily life. As a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) on the Coast you’ve probably heard some local wisdom from a host-family member, coworker or friend advising you against certain behaviors that could potentially cause some serious damage. For the sake of our wellbeing and that of those close to us, I thought it would be wise to dig a little deeper.
Turn your phone off during thunderstorms because the lightning will find you and you will die. FALSE.
Don’t worry, creepy lightning isn’t lurking and waiting for PCVs to call a domicilio. Although people are killed by lightning in their homes when talking on the landline telephone (the phone connected to the house), cell phones are not a risk. In a storm, lightning strikes between the negatively charged underside of a cloud and the positively charged ground. It tries to find the easiest way between the two, which is often a tall structure (tree, building, etc.). So in a storm, go indoors and don’t be caught on your corded phone.
The first rain is the dirtiest. TRUE.
Water is expensive on the Coast (I’ve heard) so it’s common to bathe in the rain water. How could the first rain of the season be dirtier than subsequent showers? Typically people bathe with the rain that runs off the roof or from out of a rain gutter, which have been gathering dust and leaves throughout the dry season. The first rain rinses the gunk from the gutters and roofs. By the time the first rain hits the unwise bather, it will probably be the dirtiest of the season.
Air-conditioning is bad for you. DEPENDS.
The general consensus on air-conditioning is that although it probably won’t paralyze you (as some PCVs have been told), it can lead to some health issues. The frosty breeze can cause breathing problems by drying out mucus membranes which can also make you more vulnerable to catching the flu or a cold. AC units circulate viruses, bacteria and mold. Having the system professionally cleaned yearly is recommended, but who knows if this happens here.
Sudden temperature changes make you sick (or at least damage your health). TRUE.
No showering after ironing!
If you’re sweating, don’t get in the shower or air-conditioning. Keep your shoes on, and don’t open the fridge!
Of course, this depends on a few things, such as the severity of the temperature contrast. Remember: bacteria and viruses make you sick, not the cold. However, going into extremely cold temperatures from very hot temperatures can stress your body’s immune system which could make it easier for latent bacteria or viruses already in your body to make you sick. Experts (and costeños) recommend letting the sweat evaporate from your body before entering the frigid air. There is some risk of bathing when a person is submerged in icy-cold water from the extreme heat, but it seems your standard not-so-cold shower is fine, sweaty or not. Consistent with the wisdom of our costeño friends’ advice, I was only able to find risks involving temperature shifts from hot to cold. With that said, open the refrigerator at your own risk!
Tip: Help your immune system by eating well, exercising, and getting adequate sleep.
Sleeping with a cat is deadly. FALSE (probably).
The kitten can’t sleep on your bed because she will see your jugular vein twitching on your neck in the middle of the night and she will attack and rip it out.
This terrifying bit of advice might make our cat-owning PCVs nervous, or perhaps grateful their feline friend hasn’t noticed their neck pulse yet. The good news is that I found no reports at all about this really happening.
Take ____ to cure your cold. FALSE.
Honey cures the cold.
Lemon cures everything.
Although nothing will cure your cold, there are natural household remedies that you can use to help alleviate your discomfort while your cold runs its course. Warm lemon water with honey will help loosen congestion while keeping you hydrated. Honey alone has been shown to be an effective cough suppressant.
Let’s focus on the Coast. Seeds from cherries, apricots, peaches and plums contain cyanogenic glycosides which are poisonous. Simply gnawing these pits won’t poison you, but they shouldn’t be eaten. Apple seeds in very high doses can poison a person, but a few will not pose a threat. Seeds from grapes, tomato, watermelon, citrus, guayaba might not be so tasty, but they won’t cause you harm. As a precaution, limit your intake of apple seeds, and do not eat raw almonds (a seed, btw) or yucca.
Researchers and scientists are great, but they still haven’t taken on some of the tough stuff, the ancient costeño secrets. So if any brave scientists are reading this, how about you open up your labs to claims PCVs have gathered, and really contribute to the scientific community.
Leaving the closet door open summons Death.
Having one’s feet swept with a broom precludes marriage.
Hanging salt above one’s door impedes the entry of witches.
Mal de ojo. Am I protected?