Argentine Cold Remedies

This winter, Daniel and I have managed to evade the innumerable cold and flu bugs circulating at this time of year. However, the second time I ever visited Argentina, I arrived in August, toward the end of winter in the southern hemisphere, and luck just wasn't with me.

I came down with a doozy of a sinus infection. I felt as though I was drowning in a sea of my own goopy bodily fluids, with an accompanying feverish warmth and aching pressure in my cheeks heretofore unknown [at least to this individual]. I could barely manage to breathe, and for a few days, I was decidedly miserable. Rather than enjoying the sights and sounds of Argentina, I wasHot Tea with Lemon by boo_licious, on Flickr [used under Creative Commons License] huddled under three blankets with a woefully inadequate supply of scratchy one-ply tissues, feeling rather sorry for myself. Before I worked up the courage to face the inevitable, a visit to the doctor for the first time in a foreign country [a story for a different blog post], I decided to see if Daniel's family could recommend some over-the-counter miracle cure for what ailed me.

First, they ticked off a list of common Argentine home remedies for colds including: oregano tea for a cough; gargling with vinegar or baking soda mixed with water for a cough/sore throat; inhaling eucalyptus-infused steam for nasal congestion; and tea with lemon and honey for a sore throat.

However, the vote was clearly unanimous in favor of the liberal use of some mysterious substance referred to as "bee-bah-poh-roo" to alleviate my suffering. What? Viva Perú? I thought. I briefly pondered how swearing allegiance to this Andean nation could possibly cure my sinus infection, before moving on to more pressing matters. Somewhat wary of this Argentine wonder drug that I'd never heard of, I pressed Daniel's stepfather Tomás for more details.

"So this bee-bah-poh-roo...do I buy it at the pharmacy?" I asked.

"Sure, at the pharmacy, the supermarket….everyone uses it."

"Is it a lozenge, a pill that you take or what?"

"No, it's not a pill. Bee-bah-poh-roo...it's really helpful for colds. Just try it," Tomás said in an assuring manner. Clearly someone had either been brainwashed or was on the take from the makers of bee-bah-poh-roo.

"Right, but what is it, exactly?" I continued.

"It's an ointment that comes in a jar. You rub it on your chest or put a dab under your nose. It'll make you feel much better, I promise." There was a momentary silence as I attempted to piece together the description of this amazing and beloved cure-all.

And then, the realization hit me.

I began laughing hysterically, a throaty, phlegm-filled cackle of sorts. Surely Tomás thought I'd been caught up in some kind of feverish delirium, but no. It had finally dawned on me that the mysterious bee-bah-poh-roo was actually Vicks VapoRub, that mentholated cream favored by many to relieve the symptoms of a cold.

Sadly, this would not be the first or the last time I would be completely confounded by the inventive Spanish pronunciation of a random word or proper name in my own language.

It turns out that, in a way, the bee-bah-poh-roo did make me feel better, even if only for a few minutes. Laughter is truly the best medicine.

What's your favorite old-fashioned folk remedy for a cold?

[Photo credit: boo_licious]


P.S. As I found out a few months back from friend Dan Perlman at SaltShaker, some people actually stick Vicks VapoRub up their noses or eat small spoonfuls of  it to treat nasal congestion or soothe a sore throat [the guilty parties shall remain nameless—but just to clarify, it's not Dan!]. Apparently, in certain Latino families, mothers make their kids eat a bit of Vicks when they're sick. I'll stick with a topical application, thanks!

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