I’ll be leaving for Nicaragua in a scant 4 weeks’ time. I’ve found myself obsessively fixating on my packing list, which is making me more than a little bit crazy. See, for the first three months, I’ll be required to report to training dressed in “business casual” attire. How I’ll train to do agricultural work wearing such clothing is a mystery to me. After than time, I’ll be working outdoors in the rain and the mud and the sun. I may be in the mountains – cold – or the lowlands – hot. I’m trying not to get skin cancer – long sleeves – but I’m also trying to avoid heat stroke – tank tops. I'd like to be comfortable - cotton - but I don't want my clothing to mold during the rainy season - nylon and polyester. With all of these conflicting goals, plus a weight limit, you can see why packing has gotten me all bent out of shape.
One thing, though, will be the same no matter the climate or dress code. And that is chronic malnourishment. All volunteers vent about it. I expect to be living by the adage “peel it, boil it, or forget it”. As in, bye-bye, salad. See ya later, strawberries. Ta-ta, fresh tomatoes. I don’t expect to be getting much protein either, or fiber.
American health nut that I am, I took a trip to Whole Foods to check out what’s on offer in the wide world of supplements. I was looking for something that might keep me healthy should it turn out that I subsist primarily on white rice and tortillas these next two years. Luckily for me, Whole Foods and its partner manufacturers have gathered, dried, pulverized, and packaged the nutritional bounty of six continents, and made all of them available (at prices befitting their exotic origins) in the brimming supplements department.
What a dizzying array of powders, pills, and gels! Jay Robb’s Whey Protein screamed out its attributes beside a photo of its muscle bound namesake – “Outrageously delicious! 25 grams protein per serving! Easy to mix! Made with stevia!” Green Vibrance advertised ingredients geared toward the following categories: “membrane and nerve support”, “high fiber foods and prebiotics”, “antioxidant and circulatory support”, “adaptogens”, “immune support”, “skeletal support”, and “palatability factor”. I guess that last one was supposed to make the stuff taste okay. It didn’t. It would require a chemistry degree to interpret the package of Alive Whole Food Energizer Ultra-Shake. Isoleucine, methionine, tryptophan, chlorella, broken-cell microalgae, lignoceric acid. Come on, people, am I expected to ingest this stuff?
The sweet-faced boy working the supplements section reminded me that I should definitely not attempt to spend two years in the developing world without a ready supply of probiotics, in case my own internal stock should be depleted by traveler’s diarrhea. Thanks, buddy.
So this week I’m taste testing. I picked up a package of every single-serving item I could find. Each day I mix one up and gulp it down. Some of them are actually not that bad. I don’t know if they’ll help, but it’s probably my brain that will really need these supplements anyway, not my body. If a tub of Greens and Whey can help me to accept a life without actual greens, it’s probably worth it.