Once when we were children my sister got lice from school. I remember it was a big, embarrassing ordeal. We all–my mom, my sister, and I–used lice shampoo right away. This memory makes me smile often, as I go about life in Paraguay. Things are so different here.
Most kids have lice in Paraguay…that might be an exaggeration, but not a terribly erroneous one. The difference is, however, that lice are not considered to be the end of the world in Paraguay, as they seem to be in the States. People I know here don’t use shampoo to kill the little buggers either.
Lice control in Paraguay involves a child sitting in her mom’s, aunt’s, couscin’s, or sister’s lap while the older woman combs through the girl’s hair with her fingers and kills the lice she finds between her finger nails. This is a ritual that is neither hidden or done with shame. It is undertaken out in the open and in front of visitors without hesitation.
Grooming in Paraguay is more communal than I experienced in the States. The lice picking used to remind of apes and the other habits between women (mostly) like cutting each other’s toe nails and cleaning each others feet made me a bit queasy. Feet are for walking, not for touching in my book. But, nowadays I find these behaviors normal, though I still don’t actively participate–I guess we all have our limits.
The easy-to-maintain sterile world many people in the States live in allows us to forget that germs and bugs and dirt are just part of life. I think many of us could benefit from remembering creatures like lice aren’t usually the result of negligence but are just part of this little world in which we live. I’m not exactly saying that we should all go out and get lice, but I’m suggesting that their appearance shouldn’t be a catastrophe.