Two days to go and there is much to worry about. Where to start? There is the brake line for the camper that should have been installed long ago. There is the unfinished compartment for the sewer hoses that my friend is still fabricating. I need to pack for temps ranging from steamy Texas to a blizzard in Wyoming. So much to do but my real worry is that I am convinced I might starve.
There are three things in life that make me grumpy: hungry, cold and tired. Any one of the three I can usually muddle through but added together the misery grows exponentially and the chance of tears moves to 100%. Let's just say that I have never had the misfortune of an eating disorder so I am usually pretty on top of the hungry part except with the unexpected happens and that is just what happened.
A consequence of my decision to put off my trip for two weeks due to weather meant that I had three weeks to kill so I decided to pick up a few shifts for extra cash before hitting the road. This put me on a small Indian reservation about 1.5 hours from town. This tribe, like many, is exceedingly poor. It is grave ignorance that one must cross boarders to find “real” poverty. In fact, America is rich with poverty. The advantage of working in Sells is that you still get an international flare thanks to a boarder patrol stop on each trip out without ever leaving the red, white and blue. Those that chose to work at the hospital become a tight knit, rag tag group because of the enormous personal sacrifices required to work in a remote area while treating the complex healthcare needs of the community. I feel like a bit of in interloper when working there. I am not permanent staff and therefore do not suffer the long-term wear and tear of working there, but nor am I Indian or have any connection to the tribe. It can be an awkward line to walk between being professional while also culturally sensitive.
I decided to use the opportunity to try out the camper since the hospital compound conveniently has RV hookups (housing is extremely limited on the reservation). Each of my three trips out were planned to the very detail so that I went out with a two hangers of scrubs and a full fridge and I came home with a bag of laundry and empty Tupperware. The safety of this plan lay in the fact the hospital was steps away with a working bathroom and a cafeteria. What could go wrong?
Things went very well the first two trips. My confidence bolstered, I started testing my equipment. First I tried out a device called the Sewer Solution. I will leave it to your imagination but it is what it says it is. I would call my first attempt using it YouTube worthy but fortunately there is no evidence.
My other bold move was to turn up the temp on my refrigerator all the way from 1 to 3 on a scale of 5. Medium, right? I was really trying for average! Unfortunately had the devastating consequence of freezing my Trader Joe’s salads, which make up a large percentage of my diet. I was suddenly out two meals of my carefully measured calories.
The third complication stemmed from the fact that I chose to work night shifts, a decision made in a moment of weakness. This meant that after working all night, I walked back to my camper, turned on the air conditioning and happily fell asleep. Unfortunately, the AC didn’t work nearly as well as my refrigerator at keeping things cool. Several hours later I was wide-awake and feeling like a potato wrapped in an aluminum camper baking in the Arizona sun. Sleep was no longer an option and as long as my eyes were open, my stomach decided to wake up as well. I suddenly had a new triad: hot, tired and hungry and it wasn’t pretty. I headed off the compound to find food since the cafeteria was closed.
My friend, who has worked in Sells for nearly 20 years and once lived out there full time, encouraged me to visit the grocery store and nearby dining options so I had a better sense of the place. Unfortunately, the modern diet has not been kind to the Indian population. They are plagued by obesity and diabetes and the many devastating complications of both, including heart disease, kidney failure, blindness, and amputations among others. In spite of this, many of the patients still came in with giant sodas and a bag of Cheetos. The few restaurant options served only greasy hamburgers and fry bread. The only grocery store in the area is stocked with fried burritos, fried chicken and mac and cheese. There is a wide selection of lard. The donuts were sold out. The veggies look wilted. It is hard to maintain a good diet when healthy options are in such short supply. A can of black beans and half cooked rice made up my dinner that night before heading back into my shift.
After another long night, I crawled back to the camper and fell into a drunk like sleep after two days with only 4 hours of sleep. I agreed to be up in three hours to go for a run before heading back into town. This poor decision was compounded by the fact that the temperature had risen to 80 degrees. By the time I finished running and packed the camper, I was nauseated and dizzy from the heat. Still, anxious to get out of town, I drove to the gas station for water and maybe a Gatorade. I stepped inside to the smell of greasy fry bread, which suddenly sounded decadent. I fixated on the 32oz icy cold soda the girl in front of me was filling. I turned my back willing myself to find something that wouldn’t block off my arteries before I got home, but alas, my survival instincts kicked in. Minutes later I was back on the road, a flakey empanada in one hand and a Root Beer in the other, feeling a lot more cheerful and finally just a little bit native.