I’ve already written about the ravages our digestive systems suffered in Bolivia, but I was thinking today about the everyday effects of these issues. In our mission, we always carried a “campo kit,” which was essentially a roll of toilet paper or its equivalent, in case we were out and about and had an emergency. “Campo,” for you non-Spanish speakers, means “field,” which is where we would go if we had such an emergency.
Imagine, if you will, two American missionaries knocking doors in a Bolivian neighborhood when suddenly one of them says, “Quick! Give me the campo kit, or I’m going to brown out!” (More on that phrase in a moment.) The missionary would run to the nearest field or vacant lot and use the toilet paper as it was intended to be used. I can tell you it’s no fun squatting in broad daylight in a field with your pants down and the cold wind rushing between your legs.
If we ran out of toilet paper, we would use whatever was handy. Usually this was Bolivian money. At an exchange rate of 1,900,000 pesos per American dollar, the bills were cheaper than toilet paper, though obviously far less hygienic.
A “brown out” refers to the unpredictable relaxing of the bowels, resulting in badly soiled pants. At a certain point, your intestines were so messed up they would simply relax without warning. The first time I learned about brown outs was on a bus into La Paz for a zone conference. We went over a bump, and my companion said, “Oh, crap, I just browned out.” When we got off the bus, he went into a hotel bathroom, removed the markings from his garment bottoms, and left them there in the trash can. My first brown out I was walking along the sidewalk in Cochabamba and stepped off the curb to cross the street. Apparently that slight jog in my step was enough.
When I went home, a sister in our group browned out at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, and I did the same while I was sitting on the couch talking to my parents at home the next day.
It was quite common at zone meetings for missionaries to compare the contents, color, and consistency of their bowels movements. We all new that black meant blood, and red meant get to a doctor quickly.
I wish I could say that brown outs were something I left behind in Bolivia, but alas, the damage to my system seems to be permanent. Metamucil every day seems to keep the problem in check.