During the summer of 2008 I went to visit a friend in Mumbai, India. He had been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study the caste system on merit of his genius, and I was cashing in on a free place to stay and someone to show me around on merit of my being a freeloader. I had done some traveling before, but nothing that could have prepared me for the difficulty of being a tourist in Mumbai. Poverty is endemic and everywhere is overcrowded, so people and animals eat, sleep, and relieve themselves in the streets. Exhaust fumes from shambling trucks and swarms of auto-rickshaws choke the air, and street markets and restaurants season the pollution with spicy odors. Now take all that and heat it up with the kind of stifling humidity that makes summertime in the District seem mild by comparison. That’s Mumbai.
Suffice it to say, I didn’t avoid sickness for long.
It happened after ingesting a deeply troubling yellow food product of indeterminate origin and washing it down with water – the ultimate traveler’s no-no – that I had been assured was purified to the highest standard. It wasn’t, and consequently I was purified to the highest standard over the course of the next 24 hours, in what is to this day the worst illness I have ever experienced. I spent that time lying on the floor of a non-air conditioned bathroom – dehydrated, unleashing all manner of foulage, and praying for death – while my friend went to a nightclub and then about his daily business, happy as a clam and laced up to the gills on stomach medicines.
Fortunately God ignored my pleas for a quick death and saw fit to end my suffering just in time for me to catch my plane to New Delhi. The plan was for me to go to Delhi alone to sightsee, and then my friend would come and meet me for a trip into Nepal. Had I not recovered in time I would have probably forced myself to get on the plane anyway, but in all likelihood I would have been quarantined once I made a nightmare of the little plane bathroom. I’m glad I wasn’t forced to play that scenario out; my time alone in Delhi turned out to be one of the high points of my trip, and a real eye-opener on how fortunate I am to be me.
Continued Tomorrow . . .