Friday, December 11, 2009

Delhi Belly

A month plus in India does not make me an expert on anything but the daily confusion of an American tourist, but let me see if I can take a stab at the source of the phenomenon called "Delhi Belly".

Delhi Belly is what occurs when foreigners get a crippling bout of food poisoning in India. Even putting this to print is really tempting my own fate, but I have always had a relatively strong stomach. Once in France, Nikki, Camilla and I ate the same salmon for lunch and the two of them spent the night on the train writhing in agony while I did not feel a thing. So we'll see how it goes in the remaining 28 days here. Fingers crossed.

Lonely Planet guidebook explicitly tells you not to eat street food unless it has been fried in front of your face, not to drink fruit lassis (smoothies), not to eat salad and not to eat any fruit that lacks a peel.  I have so far had fruit, salad and lassi and have been fine.  

The cause of the Dehli Belly is not poisonous apples or lettuce, nor an intolerance of hot spices, but the bacteria that abounds on every surface in the country. I'm trying not to speak disparingly of the hygene habits of an entire people, but it is fair to say that American hygene far exceeds the norm here. The result is that an indian's constitution can simply handle more bacteria in their diet than we frail Americans. Hence, the Delhi belly.

Yesterday, after climbing a steel ladder in an abandoned (except for monkeys) ashram, I noticed a peculiar yet identifiable brown substance on one of my fingers. I immediately began rummaging in my purse for my antibacterial wipes only to realize that they were missing. Bottled water and vigorous rubbing would have to do until I found a bathroom. Well bathrooms in India do not offer soap or even toilet paper. (One might put two and two together to determine this as the source of Delhi Belly.) 

So I spent the rest of the day obsessively compulsively wiping, wetting, and smelling my finger to direct if any offending microbials remained. At one point I considered holding the finger over an open flame and then just decided to leave it ungloved and out of my pants pocket hoping the frostbite would sever it.

Cows do their business all over the streets. People inevitably walk in the dung, walk in their homes, then sit on their floor and prepare a meal. This is how we do it in the home of my cooking teacher, Purnima. If a piece of cauliflower jumps out of the pan onto the floor, she makes a noble and obvious effort to wash it off before she puts it back in the pan, but I'm sure that this show of concern is only for my benefit.  

What can one do? Live on the handful of Powerbars I brought with me? No, I just have to close my eyes and eat the food and convince myself that a little dirt never hurt anyone. Or at least not yet. 

And I'll remember the antibacterial gel next time I'm climbing monkey ladders.

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