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Toilet Traumas II: The Squatter Strikes Back

The Joys of Delhi Belly in Udaipur

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UPDATE: We were nowhere near Mumbai during the terrorist attacks. Please join us in prayers for the victims and their families.

They say that if you travel to India, it’s going to happen to you. Clinically known as “Traveler’s Diarrhoea” (I do prefer the British spelling; that extra ‘o’ makes the word look so much prettier), everyone on the road calls it simply “Delhi Belly.” No matter how careful you are, inspecting the seal on each bottle of water, carefully assessing the hygiene of every dining establishment, avoiding food that has been sitting out, and washing your hands religiously, it’s just a fact of life. Come to India, and you are almost certain, as travel host Anthony Bourdain so eloquently puts it, to spend some quality time on the “Thunder Bucket.”

Our adventure -- and trust me, this is a story worth hearing -- began at the Pushkar Camel Fair, where we inhaled prodigious amounts of dust and camel fur, both of which we are allergic to. Combined with the toxic goo still stuck in our lungs from breathing the air (and I use the term loosely) in Delhi, we both were feeling the beginnings of some pretty unpleasant respiratory issues as we settled into the evening train ride to Udaipur.

And then came the fatal error in judgement: dinner on the train. It was such simple food; dhal (lentil curry), rice, and chapatis (unleavened whole wheat bread). It looked so innocent. It didn’t even have any meat. Well, something was hiding in there, alive, lying in wait...

As I have discussed in several previous posts, on this trip we are frequently staying with local people that we have met through an online hospitality organization called Couchsurfing. In Udaipur, we were supposed to be staying for three nights with an Indian man named Raj and his family. We arrived late (about 10:30pm) and they welcomed us warmly: Raj and his wife, his two beautiful little girls, and his mother. A really nice family, typical Indian middle class. They have a very pleasant flat in a classic building in Udaipur’s old city. We sat together in the small living room talking for a while, and they brought us some palak paneer (fresh cheese in spinach sauce) to taste -- we think they probably had a whole dinner waiting for us and were disappointed we had already eaten. But we were very tired, so we said we would like to go to bed.

“Alright, no problem,” said Raj. “You and I will sleep in the room across the courtyard, and the women will sleep in the other room here.”

OK, interesting. Not a sleeping arrangement we had anticipated or ever encountered before, but then, this is India and as I said they are a very traditional Indian family. So, putting on our best game faces, we headed off to separate sides of the house to sleep. Interesting and unusual, but certainly nothing we couldn’t handle.

And then, about an hour later, it happened: the Gut Gurgglies. You know what I’m talking about; that ominous feeling of the flood gates at both ends of your stomach being thrown open, emptying its entire contents into the express lanes to the nearest exits. The harbinger of imminent and extreme digestive unpleasantness. “This is Mission Control, T-minus-five and counting...”

I was going to be sick, and I knew it. In someone else’s house.

I got up and went out to scout the bathroom situation. It was just off the courtyard; thankfully not attached to either bedroom area -- not that Raj was likely to hear any unpleasant sound effects considering the depth of his slumber. I opened the door; yep, as expected, it was a squatter. Well, not ideal, but I would make do. Toilet paper? Of course not; this is India, where only foreigners wipe instead of wash. But no problem; I had a roll in my backpack, which was still in the living room. I went to the door to the other part of the house, where the women were asleep.

Padlocked shut.

Apparently they really take protecting their women seriously in India. I did not take personal offense at this, since my own wife was in there as well, though I did pause to consider the implications if there were a fire. But I can’t say I was very pleased with the development. Beginning to feel an urgent situation arising, I went back to the bathroom that would be my personal chamber of horrors for the rest of the night, resigned to the unfamiliar and unpleasant task of washing after each round of fireworks.

Diarrhoea with cramps on a squat toilet is not a very amusing experience. Vomiting into one is worse. The old plumbing leaked water all over the floor, so I had to kind of straddle the puddle, crouching with my knees against the edge of the toilet platform, and get my face quite unpleasantly close to the squatter to avoid missing it. In retrospect I am sure I looked really funny. Say what you want about the squat toilet being more ergonomic for defecation, the western toilet is way better for vomiting.

About 6am, I heard movement (and an unlocking padlock) from the other side of the flat, and I went to find Lynn. She had spent the night attempting not to cough in the faces of the wife and daughter with whom she had shared the bed. One look at my face as I croaked, “Hotel...” and she understood that things had not gone well for me either.

We apologized profusely to Raj and his family for needing to leave and be sick in private. They were all very concerned for us and sorry to see us go. And we were sad to leave -- they were lovely people, and we would have enjoyed getting to know them better. But it’s really hard to be a good guest when you are dreadfully ill. So we caught a lift to a cheap guesthouse and spent the next four days recovering. And there are certainly worse places than Udaipur to be stuck in a hotel room, looking at the view out of your window.

India. It has a way of getting into your head, and your heart.

As well as your guts.

Posted by Bwinky 22:27 Archived in India Tagged health_and_medicine

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