Avoiding Food and Sex Like the Plague
By Doug McGill
The McGill Report
Rochester, MN -- Next month I am traveling to Ethiopia, so I stopped
by Mayo Clinic last week to get my vaccinations. The nurse came in with
a fistful of green syringes, each with a tag identifying the bug the
needles were meant to ward off -- yellow fever, typhoid, meningitis,
hepatitis A and polio.
Once my upper arms were swathed in Band-Aids, the nurse showed me a
diagram explaining how to self-treat for diarrhea. A brochure warned
me not to
have sex with anyone on the trip, not to drink the local water, not
to drink anything containing ice cubes made from local water, and
eat leafy vegetables. A portable water purifier, bug repellant and
a mosquito net for sleeping were all recommended purchases.
Was this Ethiopia I was going to visit, or a lower circle of Hell?
What really shook me up was when the nurse looked up for emphasis and
warned me severely: "Never eat anything from a street vendor."
No food from
street vendors?! After 10 years of traveling as a journalist, one of
my sweetest memories -- often literally sweet
-- are of the
fantastic smells, sights, and flavors imbibed at al fresco food
stalls. The savor
of our miraculous world is available precisely on the street
where most people in this world live, under the blue sky and amid
Sprays and Nettings
In Laos, a penny at a food stall buys you a leafy bouquet of
heol," which you carry through the afternoon picking out the pea-sized
nuts to eat as snacks. In Thailand the glistening white "rambutan," moist
pearls of fruit encased in a soft spiky skin, is the snack of choice.
If you skip the street food "hawkers" of Singapore and Malaysia,
you'll miss one of the greatest eating experiences on this earth. Fancy
hotel restaurants in both countries compete to hire the best hawker cooks.
Of course I want to stay healthy. I am grateful for vaccinations
that can protect my life, and I'll take the shots every
time. But something
in me rebels against the image of the world that's implied
as we erect around ourselves a wall of fears, vaccinations,
Tourism is the world's biggest industry, affecting 240
million jobs and producing a half -trillion dollars
in sales in 2000,
according to the
World Tourism Organization. Yet the American tourism
trend-setter globally, sells travel as a form of entertainment.
It strives to make
international trips more like visits to Disneyland
than to anyplace real.
Taking all possible steps to prevent meningitis and
other killer diseases is one thing. But succumbing
to the view
world beyond America
is rife with danger and disease, which then steels
you to visit those places protected by an armament
Being human, which means being open and vulnerable
within limits, is essential to good travel. This
as you travel
you are susceptible
to some embarrassment and even heartbreak. Make
no mistake, the real world will show you to yourself
-- and that
can be embarrassing.
One day while walking to the Tokyo subway, I
saw a Japanese housewife making silly noises
playing with a kitten
in her yard. "Wow!" I
thought to myself. "Japanese people love
kittens just like Americans do!"
I was so ashamed when I realized what I'd thought.
How little I knew, how unconsciously ignorant
and callous I was. How
The real world will break your heart too.
I held a beautiful baby girl once in Jakarta
who was red-cheeked
as little girls and boys do. But she lived
in a diphtheria-ridden slum on a vast and
heap, and I knew
she would likely never
I still feel the anger of that moment and
I cherish it, because it motivates me
and to try to
do good journalism
So bring on the shots for typhoid, yellow
fever, and all the rest. But let's
not try to vaccinate
human, an illuminating gift of honest
Copyright @ 2004 The McGill Report