Our neck of the jungle* routinely reaches around three bazillion degrees. I’d show you a picture of our thermometer to prove it, except that it has long since melted into a puddle and oozed off of our porch. Because of this eternal heatwave, I am usually a sweaty mess by breakfast-time, so I often go about the day shirtless. It’s one of the little perks of working for an NGO in the middle of nowhere; the dress code is pretty minimal.
Anyway, I was sporting my regular sans shirt casual-wear the other day, visiting with a bunch of Iski guys in my yard, when one of my buddies turned to me and said something in Iski that I didn’t understand.** I asked him to repeat it, and he said, via the trade language, “Wow. Seth, you are SO fat!” And, as if the comment wasn’t demoralizing enough on its own, his expression of unfiltered awe as he squeezed my arm blubber really helped drive the statement home.
Sure, I’ve put on a little weight over the last months. I mean, it’s not like language-learning is an overly aerobic activity, after all. I just didn’t know that I had reached the level of obesity where it necessitated public proclamation – “Hear ye, hear ye! The Michelin Man is present in our midst!”
I know, I’m probably being a little too sensitive about the situation, but this subject hits a bit of a raw nerve with me. I was definitely on the “porky” side of the scale in my adolescence, and even though I was able to drop the extra pounds as a teenager, I’ve always sensed my former, pudgy self lurking close by, hiding in the shadows next to the Little Debbie snack cakes, just waiting for me to drop my guard so he could fatten me up again ‘til I can’t see my toes. That being the case, my friend’s comment came with an extra bit of sting to it.
Not that that was his intent, of course. Actually, I’m pretty sure he thought he was complimenting me. To most Iski people, fatness represents an abundance of food and an ease of living – both things that are highly sought after. So I get that it was probably just a simple case of “cultures colliding,” but that doesn’t change the fact that I now feel like a manatee in exercise shorts.
The truth of it is that, regardless of the tactlessness of my friend’s comment, he’s right. At least on a relative level, anyway: at 5 feet 9 inches tall, and 170 pounds, I am easily the chunkiest guy in our entire village of 250 people. My ranking on the Body Mass Index is irrelevant. I am the fattest person for miles around.
Obviously, that’s not exactly the legacy I’ve been striving for, but when the local population norm is 5 feet 5 inches, and all the guys are built entirely out of sinew, muscle and bone, a guy like me doesn’t really stand a chance. My teammates are no consolation either, as Andre is a French string bean, and Jason somehow manages to stay trim, even though he drinks way more pop than me.***
And so, thanks to my genetic predisposition to enormity, and the “encouraging words” of my Iski friend, I am officially on a diet. Ugh, just seeing that sentence in writing is enough to give me sugar cravings. How am I supposed to assuage my stressed-out nerves at the end of each day without Nutella to fill in the cracks of my heart?
The great philosopher, Garfield the cat, once said: “’Diet’ is just the word ‘die’ with a ‘t’ on the end.” I couldn’t agree more. But I guess that’s just my burden to bear…until I can get Jason to let himself go a little, anyway.
* Sometimes it feels more like the armpit of the jungle.
** This is the case for just about everything anyone ever says to me in Iski.
***Am I bitter about this? Definitely.