Parasites and Paperwork

by Angie Washington on September 26, 2014

When it feels as though parasites have taken up permanent residency just know... this too shall pass.

When it feels as though parasites have taken up permanent residency just know… this too shall pass.

These two topics arise during the conversation at almost every gathering of foreigners: parasites and paperwork. They hold the same high level of disdain and elicit low begrudged groans.


How many times have parasites, amoebas, or other unfriendly bugs assaulted you? How many of those nasty sicknesses can you tick on a list? Does your nearest pharmacy carry over-the-counter drugs that raise a few eyebrows?

When one of my daughters was three I went in to her room as she was waking up from her afternoon nap. Stretched out beside her on the mattress I found a worm as thick as my finger and as long as her arm. The doctor was pleased that she passed it while she slept and declared the occurrence, “Completely normal.” Yeah, right! Completely normal that an alien would implant itself in the bowels of my child, feed upon her sustenance, grow to an unearthly size and then wriggle out in an attempt to dominate our species with it’s evil machinations!

My child survived and is now a teenager; which we all know is a very special kind of alien being. We’re gonna let her stay, though, because she’s a cute and cuddly alien, not a slimy, wormy one.


Standing in line at the immigration office for hours and hours can really leave you feeling like an alien.

Standing in line at the immigration office for hours and hours can really leave you feeling like an alien.

First trip to pick up the reissued birth certificate: misspelled name. Resubmit. Second trip, same document: transposed numbers. Resubmit. Third trip: wrong last name. Resubmit and get reinforcements. Lawyer sets up special pick up time from a specific window at a specific time of day. I cringe, fully aware that the crowd of hundreds will perceive this line hop as preferential treatment. In the face of injustice the natives get restless.

After a few deep breaths at the back of the room I fix my eyes on the designated window. My heart beats faster as I take in the mass of people I will have to squeeze through to get to the front. I duck my head down and find pockets of space to reach my destination along the zig-zag path of  least resistance. Hope surges as I make it up to the final group of waiters. “Waiters” in that they have been waiting the longest, probably since before daybreak, for hours, to be attended. I remind myself I paid my dues and waited along with them three times. They don’t know that, but it gives me the courage to make that last push and dash up to the window.

I spit out the name of the person I need to see and the tired government worker disappears to a back room. A stealthy glance to my right reveals a sight of terror. One of the waiters broke rank! Her stocky frame barrels at me with amazing speed. I rehearse my rebuttal and apologies in Spanish in my mind. I don’t have time to say anything before I feel her pudgy elbow make full contact with my ribcage. She slams me against the window and begins to rant. The angry mob behind her all raise their voices in accusatory chants of expulsion. I feel a hand close around my arm. The person I have an appointment with grabs me through a small opening of the door. She shouts something back to the crowd. Then she shuts the door fast and leads my stunned being back to her little office closet.

Files stacked high on the tiny desk spill out onto the tiled floor. Happy ending to the story: I retrieved my kid’s perfectly correct birth certificate, in triplicate.

The trails of paperwork never end. Never. I bet you could tell me about some kind of paperwork you just finished, are in the middle of, or will soon be doing. It never ends.


So here is my prayer for all those suffering under the weight of paperwork or parasites.

“May your lines be short and your patience long.

May you rejoice in the moments of health and know that in the moments of sickness this too shall pass… literally.

Or you’ll vomit and then you might feel better. Or you might not feel better but at least you might lose a few pounds.

May you have the gift of tongues to interpret the medical jargon on the very strong medications.

May you interpret, as well, the official wording on forms, visas, signs, documents, contracts, etc.

When the parasites come crawling and the paperwork keeps trailing may you be surrounded by people of compassion and be filled with perseverance that pushes through to find some kind of humor in it all.


Let’s have it. I want to hear your grossest, your most tedious, and maybe, if you can manage it, your most humorous story about parasites or paperwork. And while we’re at it why don’t we all go ahead and wash our hands just one more time, okay? Thanks!


Image credit: Special thanks to the movie makers of ‘Men in Black’

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About Angie Washington

Co-Founder, Editor of this collaborative blog site: A Life Overseas
  • Elizabeth Trotter

    Hilarious! I was pretty scared for you, though, before the lady pulled you in to her office. Eek. And I love the prayer. 🙂

    • Yes, it was not a nice situation at all. Fear was very present. Glad you enjoyed the post, Elizabeth! 🙂

  • Umm, I think that parasite story wins. I’m horrified just reading it.

    We were pretty sure that our 3 year old had parasites that the regular mebendazole doses weren’t clearing, he does insist on drinking his bath water, so we took him to the doctor to get a stool sample kit. After explaining that we needed to take some poo to the doctor so they could look at it, we needed 3 days worth, he freaked out completely and didn’t poop for 3 days. When he finally couldn’t hold it any more he pooped his pants, in a restaurant, at a nice resort that a friend took us to. I threw the pants away. Then he pooped his pants in a village, in the car, anywhere but the toilet where he had been pooping for over a year. We still haven’t had that test done. He probably still has parasites. We never mentioned it again and breathed a sigh of relief when his toilet habits finally returned to normal a month or so later.

    • Yet again proving the theory “This too shall pass”. I know families who regularly take their kids in to get debugged. We are not one of those families, but it makes me wonder, like you, just how many parasites we are carrying around. Thanks for sharing your story, Carrien!

  • Richelle Wright


    and, what else is there, really, to say? its either laugh, or cry, or wonder what in the world we’re doing and why… as i just filled out 10 pages of paperwork that kept me up way past my desired/needed bedtime last night…

    parasite story – 6 months dealing with amoebas on top of the nausea of being preggo because the doctors don’t use that medicine on pregnant women. by the time baby finally arrived, me and my amoebas had made peace or something… i never was treated with any sort of meds.

    paperwork story – traveling with all of the papers we had to carry plus all the stuff we had to fill out in the airport was, for a family of 10, nothing short of a nightmare. we were in morocco – hubby and i thought that maybe, if we divided into two smaller groups, perhaps we’d conquer. except the line for me with my four kiddos closed – no warning – just as we walked up to the window. the official tried to send us through the diplomatic line – which was a flop and resulted in some rather angry words from the official there. he took us back to the line my hubby had just gone through with the other 4 kids a few minutes earlier and put us at the front of the line (the next people to the window in that line weren’t happy), and once i explained and the guy there agreed to “process” us, he asked why i wasn’t with my husband. i pointed to my husband, who was standing on the other side of the kiosk with the rest of the kids and explained we thought it might be faster and less of a burden to the agents if we split up. then he asks me if all the kids are mine. i said, “yes.”

    to which he replied, “your passport says you are an american, but you can’t be an american if you have that many kids. americans don’t love children the way we moroccans do.” i tried to respond (wearily – we’d already been traveling all night after having been up all day getting ready to travel) that yes, indeed, i was an american. it was right there on my passport. he didn’t let up.

    after a few minutes of harassment, i finally said, “sir, you are absolutely right. my passport says i’m an american, but i must be totally moroccan in my spirit.” he laughed… very loudly… announced my comment to the entire, very large room with lots of people (i wanted to crawl in a hole and die… or at least sleep), stamped the five passports in quick succession without even looking at the other four, and then let us proceed.

    thanks for a laugh, today!

    • “… you can’t be an american if you have that many kids… ” that’s rich, Richelle! Ha! Glad to know the only price he made you pay was embarrassment.

    • Brooke

      I am about to have our fourth and we are stepping in to overseas ministry, how do you do it? I need to hear more stories from you to keep myself going and sane!

  • Beth

    I love it Angie! Thank you so much for sharing!! And as I shared with you today- as I’m sitting the police station to get my license renewed, and after they had asked me about 10 questions the man looks at me and says “do you speak spanish?” Ummmm- I think that was what was coming out of my mouth 10 mins ago hahahhaha!

  • Holly Splawn

    It was December of last year and my husband, our three kids and I had been in Brazil about ten days. We had to wait five hours at the federal police to receive the list of visa paperwork we needed to complete before the next month. During the five hour wait, my oldest, then 11 years old, complained of his gum hurting. In the middle of the crowded waiting room I proceeded to squeeze out a one centimeter larva that had somehow made it into his mouth and lodged itself between one of his teeth and his gum. After it came out, I cried out. My poor boy felt nauseous the rest of the day. So did I. Thankfully, he jokes about it now. He says he gave birth to a larva. And we got the paperwork done….of course, on Tuesday we are going back to start the renewal process.

    • Oh no! That story includes BOTH parasites and paperwork – wow, bravo! And so gross!

  • RoadkillSpatula .

    In Costa Rica you could sit in line for 4-6 hours to handle immigration matters yourself, or you could hire a lawyer to shortcut you to the front of the line. People were used to it. I met a man who worked at immigration, and he helped me with a cédula renewal in exchange for a tip.

    I once wrote a blog post called My Life In Parasites. Might be more information than you wanted to know, but you asked.

    • Oh wow. That is quite graphic. Ha! I like the line: Life without parasites was good. Indeed.

  • Victoria Parsonson

    I’ve just finished 3 years working as a doctor in a rural bush hospital in Madagascar – I have some awesome parasite stories.

    One of my grossest ones was near the beginning of my time, when I’d just begun working independently without a translator. One of those times where you *think* you’ve understood what someone was saying, but kind of hope that maybe you didn’t, as you’d prefer what they just said to not be correct. A mother walked into my consulting room with her 6yo in tow. “He has been vomiting worms all night!” explained mum. “great big fat ones, huge!” The child, sitting on a chair next to my desk, suddenly began to retch, and before I could do anything about it, proceeded to vomit large earthworm type (ascaris) worms all over my desk and my books / paperwork. “Yes yes, just like that!!” said mum, jubilantly. No stool sample needed – diagnosis already evident…

    • Gross! You will for grossest story, for sure, Victoria. I never knew such a thing existed outside of science fiction. Ha!

  • Jonathan

    The day we were expelled, given 10 days to leave our home of 3+ years, we were told we then needed to go downstairs to wait in line so we could immediately pay for our exit visas (in US dollars).

    • Oh, that is adding insult to injury, for sure! Not cool, man.

  • How true! I had to share this on my blog this week … which happened to be all about waging war on amoebas and traipsing from one post office to the next with yellow papers to procure a parcel of paperbacks for pastors!

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