Thursday, November 9, 2006

"Just two things of which to beware: don't drink the water and don't beathe the air."

There is a near-universal complaint among non-Indians who have been to India: they always get sick. No matter who they are, how long they're there, or what precautions they take, they always come down with something in the end. Even the ones who don't admit to it at first. I asked one the trip leaders if she'd ever gotten sick here. Her answer was something like this:

"What? No, I've never gotten sick here. I hear people complain about it all the time but I'd never really had any problems myself... well except for some minor digestive problems... well, okay, there was the time I got dengue fever..." etc.

Still I was pretty proud of myself for going nearly seven weeks in India completely healthy.

Not everybody on the program has been as lucky as I have; there seem to be at least two people in our group that are sick at any given time. One of the last bus rides we took, I had to collect plastic bags for my friend sitting next to me, who had to stop the bus at least three times to vomit. Another one of my friends was told by a doctor several weeks ago that she would need to get her tonsils removed when she returned home. Every outing we go on as a group seems to leave at least one person behind, sick. Sometimes it's from drinking the local water, sometimes its from food. Most of the time though, we have no idea what caused it.

So when I woke up with a sore throat Monday morning, I wasn't a happy camper. That first day I figured I might be getting a cold. By Tuesday I was sure of it.

When yesterday rolled around with no other symptoms except a worsened sore throat, I started to wonder. Then this morning came. I woke up practically gargling phlegm and with a voice about an octave deeper than it had been eight hours previously, but no runny nose, no sneezing, and no nasal congestion.

So I when I came down to breakfast and found Mark and Jaime (the program's director and assistant, respectively) and asked them between coughs what the deal was, they told me:

Air pollution.

While I do consider myself an environmentalist, I always thought the image of people having to go outside with gas masks to be a scare tactic. The idea of it actually happening was laughable. But lately I've been seeing more and more people wearing veils and scarves over their nose and mouth, and I'm starting to find out why.

I had only noticed for the first time a few days ago the signs around the city with numbers representing the recent recorded level of air pollutants next to the standard "permissible levels". I'd known about the fact that the auto-rickshaws that practically run the streets around here ran on diesel fuel, and having ridden around in them a lot it had occurred to me that I was often stopping at intersections in a wide open-air vehicle surrounded by other motor-vehicles whose exhaust were pumping out fumes at about my eye level.

It wasn't until this week that it finally came to a head.

So while I guess I'm technically not "sick", I'm not in great shape. We're running low on water right now (we get shipments of bottled water from a neighborhood grocery store, but the most recent one was first delayed almost a week and then sent back when one of our teachers saw the shipment and decided he didn't like the brand) but I've been trying to drink as much as possible while leaving enough for my roommate and whichever other five people happen to actually be sick. I'd like to think it helps. In the meantime, I'm just hoping for rain, and will be trying hard to stay out of the auto-rickshaws for a while.

No comments:

Post a Comment