Counting My Blessings Despite the Pain: The Choice I Make Each Day

My first volunteering program in Brazil has been harsh on my physical health!

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional!

— Haruki Murakami

Saying that my 30 plus-hour-trip from Tunisia to Brazil was exhausting would be an underestimation. My first flight from Tunis to Frankfurt was at 2 am. My beloved furry kid was terrified and too agitated.

We reached our destination at 5 am and the second flight was planned for 9 pm. Yes, 16 hours! Your eyes are not tricking you! My baby was even more anxious during the second 12-hour flight from Frankfurt to Sao Paulo. As you may have guessed, they were two sleepless nights.

Given that 16 hours was a long period, I thought of checking whether there was an option to access the Business Lounge, which turned to be the case: economy travelers like me can buy a voucher. The problem was that I didn’t have any international card. I spent an hour and a half at least going from an area to another one back and forth. The airport is so big that I needed to walk and take a bus every time.

The icing on the cake? I was carrying my back bag and my furry kid. There was an internal communication problem between the two compartments’ teams.

Eventually, I gave up on the idea and chose one of the most comfortable charge-free spaces. Luckily, I was sitting next to a couple and their baby girl. The guy turned out to be the consul general of Ireland in Brazil. His wife is Brazilian and they were visiting his family. I was observing the connection between the dad and his 1-year daughter with tons of enchantment and admiration. We talked enthusiastically for a while. When they were ready to leave, he expressed his gratitude for the interesting and heartwarming chat and gave me his card. I couldn’t help but send him this message:

“Hi Eoin,

I thought I could send you an email straight away so that to get my email address and to express again how thrilled I am for having had the privilege to observe the parent you are! I am grateful to the Universe for what I witnessed and felt!

Appealingly, parenting is the most important topic to me given that the quality of our program is written by our caregivers. That’s why I thanked you for your healthy and heartwarming parenting style. I was crying earlier out of pure fulfillment!”

Mimi and I reached our first destination in the middle of the forest almost in the evening. We were tired and starving. We ate quickly and headed to our tent to get some very needed rest!

Three days went by. I started feeling that my legs were itching badly. I thought it was the mosquito bites’ effect and that I was sensitive to the new insects. I waited a few more days before checking my tent. What I discovered was shocking and disgusting. The bed was so wet that germs were having a fiesta. What I mean by the bed is a mattress.

It was a Saturday. My main two hosts — a couple — were shopping for the week in the City. The community member who was a witness to the horrible state of the bed called to inform them about the situation. The guy suggested that I use some other too thin paddings as a workaround. I checked them and was reluctant to the idea for two reasons:

  • They didn’t seem clean at all and I was still traumatized.
  • They were anything but comfortable.

Since I was lacking so much rest because of the terrible itching, the kind guy from the tribe suggested that I sleep in his tent, which I did after thanking him warmly for his altruism. Meanwhile, I sent a message to the host asking him whether I could use his girlfriend’s bed since she was sleeping with him at his mother’s place situated 50 meters from the platform.

My request remained unanswered and, magically, the next day, she spent it in her tent. What a coincidence!

When my hosts came back, they didn’t even bother checking in on me. All that the guy did was to bring the slim mattresses and cover them with an infested protector — which I discovered the next day. I felt so disappointed with how poorly my problem was managed. The next day, I expressed my feelings during the breakfast round table in complete transparency; gently while being firm and stating facts.

At no moment, I felt compassion from the girlfriend. Her excuse for not checking in on me both physically and emotionally? She needed some self-care time on Sunday…

Well, I would have understood and happily respected it if you hadn’t the responsibility to make your volunteer feel as comfortable as possible. Needless to talk about when they have a health problem created by the miserable hygiene conditions.

Best strategy? Doing the victim and starting a crying party. What she doesn’t know is that I am so familiar with those games.

Accountability? Are you kidding me? This word doesn’t exist or have any meaning in her dictionary.

Apologizing? I love how optimistic you are! Sincere apologies require tons of inner peace and security. This gift is inaccessible to her, sadly enough.

Her boyfriend apologized and showed shallow empathy without going any further when it comes to a practical action plan. The adorable guy who notified them offered his mattress.

I was speechless. No words could give credit to the gratitude I was feeling because of his limitless generosity!

A couple of volunteers visited the platform the next day. They noticed my legs were looking badly damaged from whatever was the root cause. Without thinking twice, they offered to take me to the hospital. The first time, the doctor’s diagnosis was Scabies. It is a very contagious disease. The most difficult part of the news was that it meant that I couldn’t hug people — with their consent, for sure!

When I returned to the platform, I had to mix hot, soapy water and vinegar to wash all clothing, towels, and bedding used within the last three days. It took all day while I was not in good shape. Also, I had to take the Scabies medication. Three days passed by and I was not seeing any tiny progress. I went back to the hospital. The new doctor said the first diagnosis was probably not that precise.

It was his best formulation to say my colleague doesn’t master his job, but the error is human!

His diagnosis was a serious infection that resulted in bad itching as a side effect. I had two injections: an antibiotic for the infection and another one for the allergy. I immediately noticed some evolution. Nonetheless, after a couple of days, the situation worsened. My ankle was swollen and my legs were very hot. I am sorry in advance for the ugly image!

I had to go back to the hospital for the third time. The new doctor was an old guy. He asked for some blood analysis. Three hours later, his verdict was no blood poisoning — which he suspected. It’s just that the infection is worse than the previous colleague thought! I had another strong antibiotic injection at the hospital and 3 packs of another antibiotic (a 7-day treatment) in addition to cream.

For a person who doesn’t take medication at all, I’m suspecting that my immune system talk would be something like, “What the heck is wrong with you? Stop it! You’re killing me!

I gave my medication bill to my host. The minimum I was expecting was a refund for the infection. My skin will be suffering for a while, but I won’t even think about it at the moment. I am still waiting for the community ‘decision’ up to this very moment! I can barely believe they need to think about it!

Final words

I guess you might be asking yourself this question, “What in the world can you be grateful for after telling such a story?”. That would be legitimate, to say the least! And my answer would be, “There is always something to be thankful for!”. In my case, three reasons are the source of my gratitude:

  • My baby girl Mimi has been enjoying living in the forest as a wild tigress. Should it be worthwhile, I wrote this piece about it.
  • The beautiful and genuine bonds I have been building with some good people here. Those pure connections are priceless to me!
  • The unplanned legacy I would leave for the community. Should you be interested, I explored the details here.

Thank you, dear reader, for sticking with me till the end! I hope you found some value!


Myriam Ben Salem
Myriam Ben Salem
I am deeply passionate about everything life has to offer. Writing has been my very favorite means to educate my audience, captivate their attention, talk to their emotions, and make them relate and take action. I have been honored by working as a columnist for BIZCATALYST 360°, an Award-Winning life, culture, and biz new media digest, serving as the global hub for enhanced performance and well-being, during 2020. Also, I am a contributing author in Mayhem to Miracles: True Stories of Courage, Triumph, and Peace. I am so in love with writing that I have a peaceful smile drawn on my face whenever I start visualizing the books I will be writing for whoever will be tempted to discover an inclusive philosophy breaking with all the stigmas! I was born in Tunisia, a small country in North Africa. I did pretty much everything earlier than the average: walking, talking, singing, dancing. Promoted throughout my entire education, I was also the leader of every end-of-year party. At some point, after working several years for multinational companies as an engineer, team leader, project coordinator, and product owner while always being a top performer, I figured out I was feeling miserable despite the 'perfect external image'. That marked the starting point of an existential crisis followed by an episode that triggered my re-birth and the beginning of the most rewarding adventure of my whole existence: re-writing my subconscious program and reconnecting with my true self. I was saved at the last moment through an out-of-body experience making me see all the lies, realize this gigantic Universe was not revolving around me. Most importantly, I was able to visualize I was here to leave a legacy like all of you, no matter how big or small! The butterfly took time to emerge though. Today, I identify myself as a Universal Citizen. Like-minded and light-hearted people are what I call home. I am deeply passionate about everything life has to offer, and was granted the edutainer qualifier: a combination between education and entertainment! I educate on the importance of healing unsuspected traumas, seeing our limiting beliefs and biases with honest lenses, finding one's purpose and a principled mission that goes beyond the self, and unleashing the hidden potential so that to leave our legacy for the generations unborn. I have been using a panoply of means that could vary from explicit ones such as mentorship, speaking, and writing, a skill that emerged naturally during my self-actualization process to implicit mediums like storytelling, how I daily show up in the world and model servant leadership! Writing is my very favorite and most preferred tool deployed for my mission. The topics I explore are in the nexus of stoic philosophy, psychology, neuroplasticity, epigenetics, and pretty much any topic involving human behavior. Common denominator? The quality of the subconscious program. You may have a look at some of my works published on my website; Set Yourself Free.

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    • I’m afraid it is, my friend! Part of my volunteering adventure horrors, indeed 😁 The other story shared last time is even more horrific, it seems to me! At least, the first hosts were not life-threatening! 😅