the shanty

After yesterday’s chicken-fried-steak lunch at “The Shanty” (when I write it out like that it seems so obvious), I developed the sort of debilitating gastro-intestinal distress that I was “supposed to” experience in India (but didn’t).

In fact, I didn’t get sick at all the whole time we were in India, except for the same small amount of stomach-upset that I seem to get whenever I travel (it happened in Paris, for instance).

Partly this is due to precautions I took before I left. I visited the UW travel clinic, where they forced upon me a polio shot, a hepatitis shot, a typhoid vaccine, and a regimen of $7-each malaria pills (thanks, Microsoft insurance plan!). Furthermore, when Ganga later visited the same clinic they made her get a flu shot, which then she insisted I get, which I did, at the “Minute Clinic” in the QFC near my house, a small cubicle staffed by a surly, pregnant ARNP (who cheerfully informed me that her unborn baby was going to be named “Joel” and asked me all sorts of questions about my experiences as a “Joel”, in what I understood as an attempt to affirm her naming choice).

And partly this is due to the precautions I took while I was there. I only drank bottled water (and made sure, whenever possible, to leave the empty bottles on the ground at historic forts and temples), never tap. Every time I accidentally (damn muscle memory) wetted my toothbrush with sink water, I threw it away and angrily demanded a new one from the hotel concierge. I duct-taped my mouth shut before showering, lest I gargle the hot shower water (as is my habit at home) without thinking about it. I never ate street food, and (except at the finest restaurants) I scrupulously avoided Indian sushi.

I carried around several bottles of hand sanitizer and used them at every available opportunity. (After the Tanjore temple elephant blew his nose on my head, I scrubbed my scalp with nearly an entire bottle of the stuff, earning myself weird looks from the shirtless, ash-covered priests and the families on religious pilgrimages and the street-people living in tarp-covered shacks on the temple grounds.) When the Chennai temple demanded that I take off my shoes to enter (forcing me to walk barefoot through wet muck), I whined loudly and repeatedly, letting the Hindu gods know not to infect me with ringworm or hookworm or worm-in-foot disease.

I covered my cheeks in kumkum (stop snickering, you perverts) to ward off the evil eye. I made sure to avert my eyes whenever a widow was present. I carried a picture of Sai Baba in my left pocket and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in my right. Each morning I consulted an astrologer for advice on which of my two REI outfits I should wear that day. I avoided riding in auto-rickshaws whose license plate numbers were multiples of 7, 13, or 58. And no matter how many times I was encouraged to do so by street urchins, I never once uttered the name “Macbeth”.

Ganga, who took only a fraction of these precautions, came down with some sort of cold while we were there, which meant that we had to visit an Indian drugstore, where all drugs (even things like aspirin) are kept in locked cabinets, in disorganized bins of assorted (boxless) blister packs, and are dispensed by pharmacists (or, when the pharmacists are out to lunch, makeup-counter-workers) who will sell you any number of pills you want simply by taking a scissors and chopping off the appropriate dose from the blister pack.

As (my favorite drug) Pepto-Bismol does not come in blister packs, we found ourselves unable to procure it over there. Fortunately, I was able to find some yesterday.


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