Products of Personal Care
by Melanie Weldon-Soiset
As I push some soap bars to the side of my DC linen closet, I discover a bright pink sunscreen bottle, SPF 65. “Non-greasy dry feel!,” it proudly boasts. Designed in California USA, assembled in the Philippines. I study the bottle while the memories wash over me.
My husband Brian and I moved 10 times during our first decade of marriage, and we culled our toiletry collection for each displacement. Many of our flats came furnished, which means our home décor choices were limited. The rock hard mattresses and wobbly tables did little to cultivate a sense of coziness; hence the splurges on rose and lavender body lotions. I wanted to reclaim a bit of dignity before storing those cherished creams in metallic, neon orange cabinets.
Moving to China forced me to become even more aware of the need to monitor what I put in and on my body. Local shampoo not meant for dirty blonde hair left my mop matted, and domestic body soap burned my skin. News articles forewarning fraudulent medicine in my adopted country kept me from neighborhood pharmacies. I therefore learned to import and stockpile toiletries.
The bottles and boxes in our last Shanghai apartment stood under our bathroom sink like little soldiers, called to attention in neat rows three feet deep and six feet wide. Like a paranoid recluse preparing for the apocalypse, I hoarded toothpaste, mouthwash, and tampons. I accumulated drugs for any ailment, storing anti-diarrheal pills from three different countries, and cold medicine from at least two.
Travels abroad became opportunities to replenish our bath and body collection. In each new country, we actively sought out the multinational drug store chains Boots, Watsons, and Mannings. This trip in the Philippines, however, proved especially trying. Stops in our usual oases left me empty-handed in my search for high SPF sunblock. I was now scouring a local grocery store.
There I stood in that Manila supermarket, at my wit’s end. The next morning, Brian and I would fly to stunning yet inadequately provisioned Boracay, a Filipino beach resort. I desperately yearned for some rest and sunshine, since I lacked both in smoggy China. I was severely overweight, burned out from my job, and injured from a torn Achilles tendon. Tears built in my eyes as I aimlessly wandered the aisles, seeking the epidermal protection I’d need to be outside. My anxious attempts at Sabbath were dissolving in failure.
But then, a flash of pink. A special section of sunscreen beckoned me. I approached the delightful neon display, and discovered a small bottle of self-care treasure.
Back in DC, I lovingly place that pink sunscreen in its proper place in my new-to-me linen closet. We had moved back to the US from China, and I’m now performing the familiar ritual of organizing the toiletries. This time, however, I intend to stay put.
“The medicine is ready!” Matthew calls. I close the closet door, and head downstairs. I see Brian and our Chinese tenant, Matthew, sitting at the kitchen table. Three bowls of soup greet me.
Brian and I are congested with colds, and Matthew has offered to make some Chinese medicine. Chinese medicine is eaten, not taken, which means a delicious soup also serves as succor. I smell the fragrant ginger, sit down, and look inside my bowl to see small red goji berries floating in an inviting brown sugar broth. What I could not accomplish in China I am now doing in the US: healing myself the Chinese way, with the help of a Chinese friend. I gratefully take a sip.
Melanie Weldon-Soiset loves to get real in comfy house slippers. A member of the Redbud Writer’s Guild, Melanie has written for Velvet Ashes, Sojourners, Geez, Redbud Post, Red Letter Christians, and Bearings Online. Melanie also lived in China for five years, where she served as a pastor at a Shanghai church for 2,000 immigrants from over 100 countries. Melanie hails from Georgia but now lives in DC, where she bikes on local greenways, gardens, and abides among the basilica bells and sacred space of her Brookland neighborhood. Find Melanie online at melanieweldonsoiset.com, or on Twitter @MelanieWelSoi.