Monday, November 7, 2011

Development as Distraction: Getting Sick

Notice how when someone gets sick, in a “loose motions”, “Delhi Belly” sense, they pore over all that they have eaten, drunk and everyone they have touched in the previous 24 hours in order to identify where the guilty bacteria came from?

Normally I think this is a futile activity. We’re pretty disgusting creatures as humans, forever touching things and putting our hands on our faces and mouths, so just because you ate a prawn sandwich for lunch on the bus home and then got sick, it does not mean that it was the sandwich that was at fault. But imagine if you had someone photograph your every movement on a day that you did get sick. You could go back and identify the exact moment when you allowed yourself to fall prey to a gastro-intestinal attack.

Often when you visit a project in a developing country, your every movement is photographed by the media officer who is eternally thankful for you having inserted his position in to the budget, even though his job is only to take photographs which no one uses. He also got a laptop, to download all the photos which he uses to surf the internet during all the time that he isn’t taking useless photos. So he really is your friend.

And often when you visit a project in a developing country, there are all kinds of moments when you are liable to touch something that can potentially make you very ill.

Don't try this at home. Or anywhere for that matter.
For example, the above photo is of a visit I undertook earlier this year in Pakistan to a farmer dairy-cooperative project that I helped develop and set-up. The very kind gentleman is sharing with me some special kind of solid-unpasteurised-dairy-milk-curd-product which has come from our very own cooperatives. They even stored it in a re-used plastic shopping bag. I specifically remember when I broke a piece of the unpasteurised lump of maybe-cheese, along with another three people (none of us having washed our hands since leaving our guesthouse that morning and having shaken hands with close to one hundred local farmers in the middle of their jobs since), that this was going to make me sick.

It did. Big time. It never gets properly cold in Southern Punjab, but I had such a strong fever 13 hours after eating that solid-unpasteurised-dairy-milk-curd-product that I was shivering so severely it made my teeth chatter and I had incredibly vivid dreams. To make it worse, the project team had organised a big team dinner that same evening which I had miss with a band, even though they had hosted it in the grounds of the agricultural college I was sleeping in (as a deterrent to terrorists apparently who would never believe that anyone who was not a student would want to live in such an awful dorm). To make it worse, PIA staff were on strike so my flight back to Islamabad the next day was cancelled forcing an 11 hour drive.

In the end, I know it was that moment that made  me sick.

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