Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ma Ling Madness

We were getting ready to get on the ship, headed from Luaniua into Honiara, the capital city and wonderland of running water (right in your house!), electricity, and shopping.  Mom and Dad had divvied up the remaining cans of food we had, because we wouldn't be back in the village for another few months, and they would go bad by then.  The night before the ship came, we had dinner at a local translator's house.  His wife served us rice, with cans of Ma Ling dumped on top, and hot, sweet tea. 

For the uninitiated, Ma Ling is the Asian equivalent of Spam ... but the meat's not as high quality.  As kids, the stuff was our filet mignon.  We'd eat it chopped up in Ramen noodles, fried, on top of rice, or stir-fried with pumpkin greens and onions.  Yum.  This particular night, we ate it island style, straight up with a side of rice.  After the meal, us kids played in the fragrant darkness, while the adults sat and talked in the glow of the kero lamps. 

Slowly, I began to feel something creeping up my stomach.  An invisible fist attached itself to my midsection, and over the course of the next half hour, began to squeeze ever more tightly.  I left my companions to lay on a mat just beyond the perimeter of light.  A few feet from me, my mom had checked out on another mat.  The vise continued to squeeze, and my stomach gave a horrible lurch. 

Something was said about a can of meat, which 'popped' when opened, and smelled a little different.  Guess who it had been served to?

I don't remember how they got us home.  All I remember about the rest of that night is darkness, and the feeling of my stomach being physically ripped out of my body.  Dad set my mom and I up in the veranda of our little hut, on coconut mats and a pillow covered in towels.  He placed a metal bowl by my head, which I was repeatedly sick into.  Anna would take it down to the ocean, empty it, and by the time she got back I had already filled another bowl.  It felt like somebody was playing string games with my intestines.  If felt like my midsection had been flattened by a steam roller.  It felt like I was ejecting the entire contents of my abdomen, organs included. 

Some time during the night, Father Nehemiah (our Anglican priest), came to our home with a chalice of holy water.  He prayed over us, anointed us with oil, then gave us the water to drink.  I didn't want to drink it.  My lips curled, my throat closed.  My stomach rose to meet my voice box.  I knew I was going to die that night.  Somehow, the priest and my father convinced me to put the cup to  my lips and receive just a sip of the blessed water.  It was the first time I had raised my body up all night.  I fell back on my pillow, stomach heaving, tears streaming.

I must have fallen asleep after that, because the next time I opened my eyes, the hopeful sun was greeting the greying sky.  Looking slowly around, I could see the scattered bowls, splatters of sick on the floor, soiled clothing and sheets crumpled against the mat walls.  My middle felt calm.  My whole body was wobbly and a little shaky.

I could hear children's voices shouting 'keva'a!' (ship) from the ocean side of the island, and closed my eyes again.  In another day, we would be boarding for the long, three day boat ride to Guadalcanal.  For now, I rested.


  1. I remember Ma Ling. But I never had such a bad experience with it.

  2. These particular cans had been dropped in the ocean a few months before while unloading from the ship, and were fished out. It was a severe case of food poisoning.