Global Hand Washing Day: A dirty reflection


I’ve never been germaphobe, nor have I ever understood germaphobes. But having been sick with stomach upsets here in Jakarta for the last 10 months, I feel a fear developing…

Luckily, I’m not alone in talking about how germs affect my bodily functions: The same goes for my expat friends living here. Phrases like “got the trots” no longer make me shudder and letting one go is almost customary at the expat-in-Indonesia dinner table.

Most expats that come here have at least one bout of bowel bursts or blockage. I, on the other hand, have pretty much been, lets say, irregular the whole time I’ve been here. I have no idea where or why I get sick — or where I picked up my nasty helicobacter pylori bacterial infection, which cost me $100 in pills to get rid of.

But since my bacterial infection, I now find myself staring at salads I’m served in restaurants, trying to zoom in on every minutia of that piece of lettuce to see if a slug has left any of its remains anywhere.

I ask for drinks with no ice and I’m paranoid that soups made with tap water are going to get into my system and form a new colon colony. I stare at waiters and try to ascertain whether they’d be hand washers or not. I pretend I can’t find the bathrooms in restaurants just to try and get a peek into the kitchen to see if I can find evidence of rats or roaches.

This new germaphobic me thinks back to my pre-Indonesia days and how I never gave sympathy to those close to me who understood germ power. So, my friends, here are your long-awaited apologies:

To Anna: I’m sorry I never took scraping the white bits between the shower tiles seriously. Thank you for pointing out that they would turn black and that those germs could possibly kill me.

To Bret: I now understand why you didn’t want to hang out with me when I had a cold, despite the fact that we had only been dating for a month and you showed me no sympathy.

To Mum: I’m sorry about all the crumbs and cups of tea in my room that in time grew their own colourful crowns of mould and attracted ants.

To Pat: I’m sorry for getting angry at you at year 10 camp for using all our toilet paper to line the edges of the hole we’d dug to do our business in.

So on the first-ever Global Hand Washing Day, let us all — clean and dirty, sick and healthy, rich and poor — join clean hands in the fight against germs.


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4 Responses to “Global Hand Washing Day: A dirty reflection”

  1. Ashlee Says:

    I am also developing a fear of germs. I ate at a Padang restaurant for dinner, and now I am scared about what germs I may have consumed. But this germophobia also makes me scared because it is yet another sign that I am becoming more and more like my mother every day… nooo!!!

  2. sansicarus Says:

    My rule of thumb when travelling any place where bowel-battles are common is basically to restrict my diet, particularly when eating out. I’ll never eat where the skin is exposed, fresh lettuce and tomatoes are to be avoided at all costs in my book.

    I stick to things that can be peeled, bananas and oranges for example, and make sure that everything is cooked quite thoroughly. No sashimi or steak tartar in countries like this for me.

    Who knows if this is a sound technique? It just seemed logical to me. And it’s worked so far…

  3. Jen Says:

    Eh, you know, I ate pretty much anything in Indonesia, and it wasn’t until my last year there that I started to get sick. Some care is probably not a bad idea – I would never eat oysters from a warung, for instance – but if you get too paranoid you’ll never have any fun. You’ll miss out on es drinks, for a start (when I come to visit next year, Trish and I are going to buy a bunch and add rum to them).

    I also ate sashimi at least twice a week at good old Sushi Groove and it never hurt me.

    I’m also pretty sure that when I did get sick it was after eating at somewhere swish or “western” (ask David, he reckons Burger King made him ill, but then he is a delicate flower). But the dude who sold bakso outside my kost? Never any problems, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t wash his hands before plunging them into the ingredients. And there wasn’t any refrigeration system in his kaki lima that I could see.

    That said, my old flatmate got amoebic dysentry in 2006, and I believe it still comes to visit her once a year. But you don’t want to be the crazy bule who won’t touch anything or try anything. I think there’s a fair amount of paranoia among foreigners about this, and some of it’s fair, and some of it’s just overreaction. Indonesians don’t like getting sick either. There are germs everywhere, you can get sick in Melbourne if you’re not used to the local bugs.

    Man, all this food talk is making me hungry… too bad I’m in essay hell, which means I’ve already eaten everything in the house.

  4. SuicidalCat Says:

    There’s a horse steak and horse shish-kebab on Jl. Cok Tresni in Central Denpasar.

    I’m just sayin..

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