I had lice in the third grade. Even now, 17 years later, it’s mortifying to write it on the internet, sending it into the vast cosmos where anyone can read it.
To be the kid in class who has lice is worse than being the smelly kid, the girl who’s really tall, and the kid who wears glasses. In fact, it’s worse than being the really smelly, tall girl who wears glasses. You may as well tattoo WEIRDO across your face and resign to a life of playing World of Warcraft in your parents’ basement where the only time you have human-to-human contact is when your mom brings you a tuna sandwich and gingerale. Speaking will become negligible so you’ll communicate to her through a series of grunts and hand gestures when she brings you the wrong chips, forcing her to go back upstairs and return immediately with the right ones.
You don’t want to be the kid who has lice.
On my second day of work in Sihanoukville, a long-time volunteer pulled me aside to point out what several girls were doing in the middle of the room. They had a very fine-toothed comb and were taking turns using it on each other. It was a lice comb and they were combing lice out of each other’s hair. One swoop and several full-grown bugs fell onto the floor where they met instant death at the tip of the girls’ fingers. This went on for awhile, until the big ones were gone. It’s an every-few-days affair because their scalps are riddled with eggs. Those hatch, itch, grow, and are combed out and killed.
Besides the obvious shock and disgust, I was immediately struck by how they enjoyed this activity. They fought over the comb, oooo-ing and ahhh-ing at each other’s collections.
Eventually, I got over the American conditioning that made me terrified of lice. That is, until our volunteer, Becky, had an impromptu lice-killing day when she combed and treated about a dozen kids. At least, that’s the day we assumed it happened….
Naturally, watching our volunteer coordinator, Sengkea, pick the creatures out of Becky’s hair made us all scratch our scalps, convinced that we had it, too. We watched the whole process with the intensity of a World Cup shootout, trying to put on brave faces for our terrified English friend, but gasping each time there was a new one.
After Becky was shampooed, I sat in front of Sengkea, looking like Cousin It as she pushed my layers of hair out of the way to survey the area. She found three eggs. However, they were dead. A neat way to tell if they’re alive or dead is to crush them with your fingernail. If they made a distinct crack, they’re alive. Sengkea suggested I got them from a pillow that wasn’t thoroughly washed. Whatever, I don’t have lice!
I guarantee this won’t be the last time a scare happens, but I’ll take combing them out with my friends to grunting for more chips any day.