Graham Reid | | 1 min read
It’s not until you’ve lain miserably ill in some far-off outpost of underdevelopment that you really appreciate Western standards of healthcare and hygiene.
Lying in a fleabag hotel room in Kabul, Afghanistan many years ago, gasping with pain at every breath, I could only think of home, clean sheets and a convenient bathroom. It didn’t help that the hotel manager was at that moment stripping the room of anything portable – chairs, rugs, tinted photos of Mecca – around his stricken guest.
The hotel has been sold,” he told me sadly as he heaved up the end of the bed to free a tatty rug, “so we must remove all chattels!” I could only grunt.
I’d taken suddenly ill with gut cramps earlier in the day after yet another tussle with bureaucracy in a dingy Ministry of Tedium office somewhere in the city. We were chasing an official stamp that would allow us to leave the country without the VW Beetle we’d driven there from Britain, and which we needed to sell to fund our onward journey to India.
My then-wife loaded me into taxi to take me back to the hotel while she went on to confront (or perhaps bribe) the next petty official.
She arrived back at the hotel later and quickly summed up my state as “not good”. She hurried downstairs to ask for a cup of tea to be sent up to our room. The manager was apologetic: teapots and cups had all been sold. But he would call a doctor.
The doctor – let’s call him Hamid – arrived after a while, accompanied by a “technician”, a scruffy-looking gent with a lighted fag drooping wetly from his lips. Dr Hamid seemed none too sympathetic with the longhaired tourist’s condition. He poked me in the gut. “Does that hurt?” Yes, I gasped, a lot.
Severe colic,” he announced. “Have you been smoking hashish?” Well, not really, I muttered. “Hah! Your Western doctors know a lot about medicine, but we know about hashish!” Smoking dope, he opined, weakened resistance to stomach bugs. He was probably right.
We will give you an injection and you will soon feel better,” he said, nodding to his dim-looking assistant, who pushed himself off the wall and pulled a rusty tin out of his pocket. With some ceremony, he opened it and carefully stowed his smouldering ciggy in the lid before lifting out a syringe. My wife looked at the needle in alarm. “Is that sterile?” she asked the doctor. “Oh yes,” he said proudly, “we sterilise it every day.”
At her insistence the surly paramedic held the needle in the flame of his cigarette lighter before filling it with something I hoped hadn't expired in 1956 and plunging it into my buttock.
I guess it helped, though it was hard tell if the injection or time was the ultimate healer. I was definitely still crook a few days later when we cadged a lift to Pakistan with a stoned-out Englishman in his VW Kombi. Sprawled on a seat in the back clutching my gut and a door handle as we rocked and rolled through the Khyber Pass in cloud of hash smoke, I seriously wondered whether plunging to our deaths on one of the precipitous bends might not actually be for the better.
Yes, I’ve had my share of suffering in far-off climes: dysentery in Kathmandu, hepatitis in Bangkok (no doubt acquired in Kathmandu) and your everyday shits in Calcutta and Marrakech, Herat, Hua Hin and even the Barossa Valley – though that one had more to do with overindulgence than gastroenteritis.
These days I can afford insurance and travel in rather better style, but you can’t insure against acts of God or a dirty fork. And when you’re miserably straddling some fearsome hole in the ground in Ezerum or Lahore and wondering what you’re going to use for loo paper, there’s only one place you want to be: home.
Patrick Smith -- pictured right, back at the time of this experience -- is a journalist and travel writer who left England in 1966 to see the world.
He was lucky enough to visit Afghanistan before the Russians, Americans and Taliban stuffed it up.
He has worked in newspapers, magazines and broadcasting in the UK, Asia, Australia and New Zealand and has run his own editorial business (firstname.lastname@example.org) since 1989.
He currently acts as travel editor and chief sub for World Magazine, working from his home on the coast south of Kaikoura.
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