Meanwhile, back in the First World…

On the first morning, I stood in my sister’s bathroom in Ottawa, helplessly looking for the used toilet paper basket that doesn’t exist in this world of power plumbing. I scolded myself for forgetting to bring along bottled water to brush my teeth. (Though in truth I’ve been gargling tapwater giardia for months. I’m the only person I know who gains weight on a constant diet of Third World street food, and I’d hoped to pick up a nice hungry tapeworm to dissolve my new little potbelly, which appears to be appears to be iron on the inside, blubber on the outside.)

I keep scalding my mouth. I never took physics, but even I know that water boils at a higher temperature at sea level. After months at altitude, though, I haven’t yet trained myself not to swig thoughtless gulps of tea.

I am mildly fascinated by all the white people on the street. Am I that pasty? (No, I’m pastier still, despite a whole year outdoors.) Would I look like that in the unlikely event I wore Bermuda shorts?

I ran five miles by the canal in Ottawa yesterday. No stinking diesel buses caked me in black smoke. Though I haven’t run in a couple of years, I didn’t even pant in this sea-level oxygen so rich I can almost taste it.

Where are the foodstands and the vendors shouting their wares? There’s not a single dried llama foetus on sale in the whole city. There are no six-year-old shoeshine boys. None of the walls have graffitti saying ‘Please Don’t Urinate Here! Have Some Respect for Yourself and Others!’

I can’t get over the comfort. The air-conditioning, the cars, the sleek supermarkets, the multiple bathrooms, the beds that don’t fold like tacos when you climb in, the telephone, the home internet access. I stand in front of my sister’s huge wardrobe and then put on the same black shirt I’ve been wearing for a year, unable to make a choice. I tell her about my two-dollar hotel rooms in Bolivia, and she wrinkles her nose.

I am thudding around in this oxygen-rich, cash-rich Canadian gravity.

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