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Monday, February 19, 2007


50 days till departure.

Preparations for my departure have begun in earnest. I’ve resigned my position at Attunity. I’ve notified my landlord. I’ve arranged for my stuff to be shipped to my sister’s place for safekeeping. And, this past Friday, I went to the tropical diseases clinic at Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center for inoculations.

At first blush, I thought that it would only be a question of whether or not to take malaria tablets. Conventional wisdom dictates that, in spite of the side effects of frightening nightmares, an ounce of prevention is still worth more than a pound of cure. Before I left for a year in Indonesia, back in 1994, I went to Toronto’s tropical diseases clinic and got immunized for everything under the sun, including rabies of all things.

And do you think it helped me?

Hah! I was sick as a dog. After my inoculation for typhoid, I got paratyphoid. I even remember the meal that gave it to me. It was at a street stall restaurant. I had deep fried cows’ lungs. I know that probably sounds revolting, but it was actually one of the tastier things I ate in that country. After incubation, I had a high fever, simultaneous vomiting and diarrhea, loss of appetite, accompanied by the standard aches and pains of such ailments. I lost 10 kg.

At risk of blowing my own sanctimonious horn, it is very much worth mentioning that I didn’t miss a single day of work at the Indonesia Australia Language Foundation. In retrospect, far scarier is the fact that none of the doctors could figure out what I had. I took traditional medicine. I took other regular medication. I even submitted to an HIV test. Until finally, after about three weeks of visits, some bright spark of a doctor at a very exclusive private clinic figured it out, and gave me the requisite antibiotics. And I got better. Well, mostly.

I never regained the weight. I had some liver damage. And diarrhea of varying degrees of severity accompanied me for most of the remainder of my Indonesia sojourn. When I went back to Canada, I went straight to the emergency ward. They offered me an appointment with the specialist in November (this was in August). So I explained that I had just returned from Indonesia, and then listed all the ailments I had suffered from over the course of that year of living dangerously. I got an appointment five days later.

It was interesting. The specialist stuck a tubular camera up my rear and I got to see it in real time on the monitor by the gurney. Each time he couldn’t push any further, he called on the nurse to “irrigate”. I won’t elaborate on that point. But one final element to the consultation that I remember was that the nurse was Indonesian. At that time, being FOB, I was able to banter away with her. She said my Indonesian was better than her own kids’.

That’s one thing about the Indonesian language. It never fails to impress people at parties. In actual fact, it is the easiest language I’ve ever come across. I had a basic level of fluency, up to and including reading the newspaper and simple novels. Not that I remember very much anymore. But people never fail to be flabbergasted to find out that I actually know (or rather knew) Bahasa Indonesia. If truth be told, they should be far more impressed by my Portuguese, which is flawless, and a sophisticated language on every level, if ever there was one.

In the event, the medication I was prescribed consisted only of three pills, which had to be released by the Ministry of Defense in Ottawa. Happily, I gained back all that weight. In recent years, I’ve gained some more.

But back to the clinic at Dizengoff Center. Wouldn’t you know it, I needed a booster for hepatitis A, another for hepatitis B (I was inoculated 20 years ago), typhoid (only good for three years as it turns out, and only with 80% effectiveness), meningitis, polio (go figure), and (you gotta love this one) Japanese encephalitis. What is that? Who’s ever had it? No travelers I’ve ever met.

I always have a nasty reaction to these injections. I had a tetanus booster last summer which made me sick for three days. Understandably, I was nervous. But guess what? Other than sore arms, nothing. The thing that hurt the most was the 400 shekel bill at the pharmacy for the malaria tablets (may as well go all the way) and antibiotics to keep on hand in the event of nasty tummy upsets.

I’ll conclude by mentioning that on my last trip to India, I caught nothing in terms of illness. Not even a minor tummy-ache. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I even had so much as a headache while I was there. I attribute this to Skye Frontier’s Rules of Eating in Dirty Countries:

  1. Only drink bottled water with the seal intact. Use it to brush your teeth.
  2. No ice in drinks.
  3. Don’t eat on the street. I’ve been told that if you see it boiling or frying in front of you, it’s OK. Maybe for the person who suggested it.
  4. Eat pineapple centers. Apparently this has preventive medicinal qualities.
  5. Enjoy fruit with thick peels that require lots of work for waiters and other hotel staff.

It worked in India the last time. It worked in Thailand (although probably wasn’t necessary). By gosh, it even worked in Mexico, home of Montezuma’s Revenge.

Now let’s see what actually happens.


Anonymous said...

Wow Andre,
You're such a talented writer. Such a pity to waste your best years writing technical manuals for widgets. But who am I to speak, spending my days writing contracts for projects that will be cancelled next month. As Holden Caufield wrote, 'My brother is prostituting himself as a writer in Hollywood.'

MOM said...

How much is 400 sheckles?
I didn't realize there would be so much preparation.
Note: grandma went 1 year to Normal School in order to teach back then. (correction)