This may not be a landmark in my journey deeper into the Neno culture, but at least it helps me relate to my friends and some of the daily inconvenciences of their lives. I got my first “num” (pronounced a bit like “gnome”, quickly, forcefully, low tone). Or if you prefer the Portuguese, it would be “bisho de pe”. Literally translated into English, that would be “foot bug”, but I have no idea what their true name in English is.* We don’t have these little creepy-crawlies in Upstate New York). Thinking through my options, I decided to go to my friend and language helper who has 4 young children. Figured she is probably one of the most experienced at removing the little critters. I took my own pre-sanitized safety pin along (couldn’t find a needle) for hygiene reasons.
Within about 10 minutes, Mariana had expertly removed my little parasite, saying that it was huge, and had probably been there for over a week. Yuck. We had an audience of about ten people watching. Like a good language learner, I had pen and notebook in hand to record phrases related to this semi-cultural event. Removing “nuwej”** is cultural; it was just in the missionary’s foot this time.
As a child, I remember reading dozens of missionary stories borrowed from our church. Eagerly checking one out each Sunday, I would devour it voraciously, hoping that the other children would read and return their books so that I could get a new one the very next week. In one of these books, written from the perspective of an MK (missionary kid) the family dealt with burrowing “foot bugs” which would leave egg sacs in between their toes.
It grossed me out so much to read about these bugs that laid eggs in people’s feet and had to be dug out with needles. And now, guess what? I live in a jungle where these gross bugs (or their similar cousins) live. Hooray. Strangely enough, “foot bugs” are not nearly as bad in real life as in missionary books.
Of course, I wouldn’t want to dig them out myself. Needles are my friends when their purpose is sewing, cross-stitch, or plastic canvas. But when they are being inserted into my flesh for any reason, they are not friends at all, often creating sensations of dizziness or faintness.
Not sure how I managed to donate blood on several occasions. Of course the last time, the poor Red Cross workers had to keep me in the “blood donation center” for almost an hour afterwards, because each time I tried to stand up I nearly passed out. The worst part was, I was the last donor of the day, and they were trying to clear out of the “blood donation center”, which was actually the gym at the local school. An entire girls’ volleyball team sat on the floor outside the gym, watching my delayed recovery. Most of those girls probably made heartfelt pledges on the spot…to never donate blood in their lives.
Back to our little “num” friends, though. A couple weeks later I found one in my left foot. This one was even bigger, and already “had babies”, as my other Neno friend said, when she finally was able to dig it out.
The strange thing is, in other people’s feet, they supposedly itch like crazy, or hurt, yet I don’t even notice them. The second one I didn’t feel at all, even after it was huge. I only found it because that toe was dirty so I washed it. Yes, I do wash my feet in the shower, including my toes, each day, but without glasses, I would never see a footbug.
(Note added in September: If I am remembering correctly, I have now had 6 “nuwej” in all. However, dry season is the time they are more common, so that number will probably go up soon. Also, in case you are wondering, these critters are often carried by dogs, so the more dogs there are around, the more likely people are to get “nuwej” also).
*Research back in the city revealed that in English “num” is chigoe flea.
**plural of num – the M changes into a W and then EJ gets added.