Tuesday, 31 August 2010

And every stranger's face I see reminds me that I long to be, homeward bound...

It's taken me longer than expected to find the time to write in here, and consequently I will have to do two separate posts just to catch up. This first one will be comprised of what we who suffered through UEA's Shakespeare module came to know as tragicomedy. In Shakespeare, it is the mix of tragical and comical elements in a play. In life, it is when bad things happen to you but you're so confused and overwhelmed that though you may want to cry, you laugh instead. And then write about it in your blog.

The beginning of my time here was a little awkward, owing to my lack of mobile phone, internet access, house key, furniture and reasonable sleeping pattern. I had expected to feel homesick at some point of course; “some point” being months down the line when I was missing Guy Fawkes or being away for Christmas or whatever. I had not expected to feel homesick on the very first night. You see, I was never the one that cried on the first day of school or couldn't handle sleepovers. I was never that kid. I went on my travels at 18, then moved away from my hometown at 19 with relatively little angst. I had never really been homesick before. It is not this vague sadness where you miss hanging out with your friends, or really crave a packet of Maltesers. It's more like you have been abducted, and as much as you try to turn your thoughts around all you want to do is get on the next flight home.

Luckily for me, quitting my year abroad would mean no degree and a large amount of legal troubles. So I had no choice but to stay put in this strange land of fried chicken (or more accurately, fried everything) and Carolina blue. On my second day here, I had my first experience of Super Target, where I amused my housemate Rachel with my excitement over the food. I am already addicted to Pretzel M&Ms, and so happy to be reunited with Hi-C juice. That evening, my housemates had people over and I got to meet lots of their friends. Because I know people at home are curious: yes I drank from a Red Plastic Cup, yes I played Beer Pong, no they did not imitate my accent and no people here are not obnoxious, but incredibly hospitable.

One of my housemates asked me if we had mosquitoes in England. My response was, “Yes we do, and they all come looking for me.” This is more than simply irritating, as I am actually allergic to insect bites. You may have witnessed my thigh doubling in size on the last day at Beaumont, or seen me attempt to play golf when my knee was so swollen I couldn't bend down. A couple of times I have had to take antibiotics for my reactions, but generally I remember to wear repellent on summer nights and don't get bitten much. Anyway, it turns out that my blood is even more popular to the insects of North Carolina. During a campus tour, I sat down in the grass and myself and another exchange student Sarah felt ourselves being bitten by something. After we moved away, I proclaimed that it couldn't have been a mosquito as I am allergic to their bites, and mine hadn't reacted at all. I didn't seem to have too many either. Oh, famous last words.

 By the next day, the bites had fully shown up along both legs and arms, enough for me to realise that I had over forty. I went to campus to eat bagels, sort out my OneCard (like our campus cards at home, except you can use it to pay for stuff) and binge on internet usage in the library. I took some allergy pills and rubbed some cream on my rapidly swelling bites, but by the time I got home I was in pain and my skin was starting to heat up and blister. That weekend new students of UNC were moving into their dorms, including my housemate Bri's brother, so her family were over at our house. Her mom is a nurse, and she took one look at my bites and said I needed to see a doctor. Being in a foreign country, this wasn't too simple. Rachel was kind enough to drive me to two places, but neither would accept my insurance. Not having a spare $170 to hand just to get seen, we went home and my parents got in touch with the insurance company to get the number for a local agent, who would be able to confirm my insurance.

Once this was all sorted, Rachel and I got back in the car and drove to the clinic. It was now closed. (This is when I laughed. Seriously.) The last option was ER, but since it can take hours and is apparently an unpleasant side to healthcare here, we opted to buy antihistamines and aloe vera instead. To put it concisely, my third night here in the states was far from restful. The antihistamines fairly knocked me out, but I woke up once or twice every hour, reaching hurriedly for the aloe vera to try to stop the burning sensation. Now, I realise that this tale sounds a little far-fetched. So I took a photo to prove it!

"During the night, old Perkins got his leg bitten sort of... off."

Please note that this was actually pre-allergic reaction, so you're not really getting the whole effect. I would have taken a photo of the swelling and blistering too, but I pretty much always had aloe vera on my hands. Anyway, that was over a week ago now so they have mostly healed and hopefully the scarring will be minimal. I'm still getting bites now and again (in fact my right arm has a wrong-sided bulging bicep) but it's nowhere near as bad, and I'm avoiding grassy areas. I'm looking into all kinds of repellent, but it's a little difficult when it's just a day to day thing.

I realise I have mostly just complained to (and/or disgusted) you in this entry, but I did warn you. Well, sort of. Maybe I was just complaining about Shakespeare again. There are lots of good and interesting things about Chapel Hill, which I will talk about in the next entry. For now, I will mention that due to the extreme humidity I have had to abandon all thought of having straight hair, and embrace a new style that looks something like this:

I should be thankful, though, that with the access to free gyms and pools, I should at least be prevented from looking like this:

I hope you're all well. Thank you very much to everyone who has comforted me through the horror, the horror that is moving abroad. (But still not as bad as reading the book I've just referenced.) I know that when more time has passed I will be able to enjoy this more fully. At least I know that thanks to the laws of tragicomedy, when I'm happy, I laugh, and when I'm sad I laugh too – so really, it's a win-win situation!