- Nia Alexander Campbell
Medicine, Illness, Periods, Bathrooms
I lumped those topics all into one post because if you’re experiencing one of the things listed above, you’re possibly going to be experiencing at least one of the others.
It was not the easiest thing to find.
Whereas here we can find some manner of off brand Advil or Benedryl at any corner store, Moroccan convenient stores . . . well, they weren't really around. Throughout my 10 day stay, I saw not one box, bottle, pill, or the disgusting liquid goo we call medicine. It could have been that I wasn’t looking in the right places. We passed by at least two Walmart-esque mega stores, so I’d bet 20 dirhams those places had the good stuff.
Keep in mind, though, that most foreign drugs aren’t like what we have in America. Let’s face it, the American pharmaceutical scene is unique; the pills for our ills pack a serious punch, even if you don’t realize it. So, if you do get your hands on some meds in Morocco, they may not have the same effect. The solution to this problem, however, is easy.
Just pack your own medication.
Don’t worry about getting caught by TSA, just keep everything in its original container and only bring the essentials in your carry-on bag (keep the rest of it, if there is any, in checked luggage). I will say, though, that I put a bunch of loose probiotics in a sandwich bag, wrote “probiotics” on it in Sharpie, and nobody said a thing. Whether or not that highlights a flaw in the theoretically thorough U.S. travel safety system, the point is that I got my meds from Point A to Point B.
However, thanks to some major anxiety while at the luggage weight station, I ended up stuffing my toiletry bag—full of my medication—into my checked luggage. You see, I didn’t really understand how the whole luggage thing worked; I didn’t know I wouldn’t be seeing my checked luggage until after arriving in Rabat, over 24 hours later. I thought I’d have to get it and re-check it at every airport since we had 2 connecting flights.
So, when I was asked if I needed the toiletry bag—which was a separate pouch attached loosely to the exterior of my suitcase—I immediately said ‘no’. I didn’t want to hold up the line and I figured I’d be seeing it again in an hour after landing in New York.
Well, I was very wrong.
So what drugs did I leave in the pouch for over 24 hours?
I brought medicine for motion sickness, indigestion, intestinal upset, lactose intolerance, allergies, and lastly some probiotics (to use in case my gut staged a mutiny over some dirty water or bad food). Though I would have preferred the comfort of having my medication with me on the three planes I endured trying to get to Rabat, I didn’t find myself desperately needing for any of them, perhaps because the universe took pity on me. In fact, the only thing I sincerely needed throughout the entire trip were my allergy pills.
The thing is, I didn't realize that allergy medications were made from different drugs. Cetirizine, loratadine, diphenhydramine . . . They aren't identical and explained why I had to rotate my medication every year. Well, despite the yearly rotations, I had never thought about the differences in medication, which proved to be problematic when I popped a Zyrtec after running out of Claritin once my sinuses started draining. I realized in a bought of horror and congestion that my allergy medication wasn't working and there was nowhere in town for me to get the right meds.
So what did I do? Let me tell you about it:
Adjusting to the climate
Though I never got sick from the food, I did get sick from the rapidly shifting environments I found myself in. Imagine, I had hopped on 3 planes travelling over 3 countries with three different climates in only 24 hours. When I arrived in Morocco, the weather in Rabat was in the 60s, but three days later I was thrust into Fes where it was 90 degrees and at a higher altitude. It all got worse after we visited the leather tannery and metal workshop, which exposed me to all manner of dust, pollen, animal dander, and the naturally cluttered air of a busy city. Not to mention I was physically just exhausted and probably a tad undernourished from not eating enough. My body was struggling to acclimate to the new environment in such a short amount of time.
So, what happened? Well, I got sick.
I didn’t catch anything; there was no mysterious Maghreb illness plaguing my tiny body. No, my body decided to revolt against itself, choosing to adapt to my new environment over the course of 8 godawful hours. My sinuses drained, which meant I felt nauseous, I had a headache, I ran a fever, and I had a hard time breathing. In the time I should have been sleeping, it felt like I was creeping toward an inevitable and snotty death.
Of course, I expected to have some sinus issues. My body reacts when Richmond goes from spring to summer, so it would make sense that an adventure in a totally new climate would call for a few cough drops and tissues. That’s half the reason I brought my allergy medication in the first place. At the time, loratadine (Claritin) was managing my symptoms beautifully, even the cheap store brand versions. However, on my pre-adventure shopping trip I decided to get some store brand cetirizine (Zyrtec), not realizing there was any difference between one allergy pill and another. Though I have years of consistent sinus and allergy issues, the only question I had every asked myself while purchasing them was what do I have a coupon for?
I only had one stray loratadine sitting in my purse, which I used to calm down an unexpected food allergy reaction. So, when my sinus cold hit and I popped open that ineffective bottle of cetirizine, I had no choice by to let my body endure every mucus-filled minute of the coup it was evidently staging against itself. After that one night of torture, though, I was perfectly fine.
Except that it was twice as worse when I came home.
When I reentered the States, I was sick for a week. This time it was more than just my sinuses draining to adjust to the new environment, this was my body getting a total shock to its system. After 6 airplanes, 20 field trips, constant exhaustion, dehydration, allergens galore, a delayed flight, and a very challenging menstrual cycle, my body was finally mellowing out until—BOOM—I was suddenly back in the U.S. I was now subjected to frigid basement air conditioning at work, humid 90-degree weather outside, and a very cold & dusty apartment infested with ants. The downside of having my first travel experience being a rapid fire 10-day adventure was that Mother Nature decided to push Ctrl+Alt+Del on me; my body had to go through a total environmental reboot.
Being on Your Period
Changing time zones
When I left the U.S., there were still 17 days until my next period was going to start. Note that I had been on the exact same 28-day cycle for the past year, so there was no reason for me to assume anything would change upon my arrival in Morocco. So, you can imagine my surprise in a swanky hotel restroom when my period hit despite the fact I still had 10 days left to go.
Well, come to find out, switching time zones can screw up your cycle. It’s like Mother Nature takes those 28 days, shakes them up, and tosses them back at you hoping you can scramble to put them back in order.
Even though it was unexpected, I didn’t see it as a big deal. Inconvenient, sure, but these things happen, I thought. Finding a pad isn’t that hard, I thought. Except that it was.
I couldn’t find any pads in Marrakesh
You know how at home you can be almost anywhere and trust that any store, pharmacy, or 7/11 nearby will have those mini packs of pads or tampons? Well, evidently that’s not a thing in Morocco, or at least the area of Marrakesh I was in. Even though the area was terribly touristy, I couldn’t find any type of a mini mart or convenient store within walking distance.
Like with medication, I’m sure that the big Walmart-esque super stores (like Carrefour)carry a solid quantity of lady products, but unfortunately that wasn’t an option for me. So, I thought to ask some of the other girls, on the trip. I mean, there were so many of us the chances that someone would have something I could use were high. Well, to be honest, the girls I asked either didn’t have anything or didn’t want to share. Though I was blown away at the fact a woman would deny another woman a piece of cotton to prevent her from bleeding over literally everything, at the end of the day I managed to plead my case and snagged one—one—from a girl on the trip.
Moral to the story: Bring your own lady products just in case your period pulls a fast one, you can’t find a mini mart, and other girls are being stingy.
You may also want to bring your own trash bag. Many of the restrooms I used didn't have those mini trashcans in the stalls specifically for disposing of feminine products and some of them didn't even have regular trash cans outside of the stall. Even though it might sound gross, it may be practical to bring your own bag to dispose of your stuff in. You can always throw it away once getting to a trashcan and it's better than being trifling and just leaving your used products around for someone else to clean up.
Don't be trifling, my friends.
What were they like?
Sounds like an odd question, but it if you’re a normal human you’ll be using a bathroom multiple times over the course of a trip. So, here is just a list of things I noticed on my handful of bathroom adventures.
The restroom attendants may expect a tip.
You may have to pay to use the toilet.
Some toilets must be flushed manually. I know in theory all toilet flushes are manual, but I mean that the attendants would come in with buckets of water to flush it after use.
The water in the toilet bowls are low. Frankly, this is more practical; America is just weird for keeping so much water in our toilet bowls. It was still odd to see, though.
What we know as “restroom” or “bathroom” is also called “toilet” or “water closet” (“WC”)
Squat toilets. They are a thing. The one I used was just a hole in the floor of a tiled room with no door or lights.
Travel with your own tissues.
Rest stop bathrooms are generally very clean.
Fast food restaurants were always clean. They put American fast food restrooms to shame.
And lastly, since the sensation of a wet floor gives me the creeps, I feel compelled to share this as well: The bathrooms in the hotels and riads are sometimes a fully tiled rooms with a drain in the middle. There’s a shower area and a toilet area, but it’s one room not separated by a tub or a shower door. The water from the shower drains right into the floor and you may have to open and close the drain a few times using a pedal operated by your foot. This is actually more common in the world than I realized, but I couldn’t get into it. It kept the floor wet for hours and walking through the cold water was not a good feeling.
Other bathrooms were split in half, as in to say, there were two rooms. One room had the toilet and sink, while another room had the shower and mirror. It threw me off at first, but not the most difficult thing to adapt to you know?
Well, that’s that! Hopefully you’ll be more prepared than I was for wet floors, door-less bathrooms and Tom rudely inviting himself onto your adventure.