This was a recent success/disaster of sorts: a UK food magazine recipe for “Chicken, greens and coconut quinoa salad”. I made it with chickpeas, quinoa, cucumber and the coconut-lemon dressing, and it was absolutely delicious. However, I used local raw spinach, and suffered the consequences for days…… I’d had spinach a few days before, and was really pleased to get some fresh greens. But no, wrong choice. Even after washing the spinach in iodine solution, rinsing it in clean water, and patting the leaves dry, something lingered that had me ill and sprinting to the toilet for days. Not great, when your office sometimes has an unreliable water supply and you cannot just go home.
“Everyone loses weight in Africa!” said a doctor to me, cheerfully, before I moved to Accra. I am not a thin person, and she wanted me to lose some kilos, which I promptly did on arrival. “You look great!” said colleagues on my first trip back, as I was slightly tanned and eight kilos thinner. Well, I said drily, “…..that is what six weeks of diarrhea will do to you…..” Life improved considerably once we got an apartment and started cooking for ourselves again, and many of those kilos crept comfortably back on again. Still, random bouts of mystery stomach bugs still strike: hand sanitizers only get you so far.
On holidays in Crete once three of us got food poisoning right before our flight back. Dodgy lamb kebab, we think. None of us had loperamide or anything useful, so I crawled to the closest pharmacy in the small village, and as I spoke no Greek, I had to mime something along the lines of “vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, going on plane, HELP”. She gave me charcoal tablets and something that eventually worked (enough) and since then, I never travel without some digestive emergency medications. Generally you do want things to (ahem) run their course, not concrete your innards, but sometimes Immodium can get you functional enough to get on that next flight.
Back home I would generally not say much about suffering from toilet-related issues, maybe just admit to feeling a bit under the weather. Here, though, it is amazing how you get used to discussing digestive issues with friends. “Is it normal, to, err……..?” newcomers will ask, timidly. “YES. Perfectly normal. What did you eat? Do you need some rehydration salts?” “Try plain rice, nothing fried. Otherwise I have some Cipro upstairs, and I know a pharmacy that will deliver to your house.” (See also Things Expat Workers Like #57: Talking about poop.) We discuss where to eat out with the least chance of getting ill, restaurants with very nice or really terrible toilets, de-worming tablets, street food vendor hygiene and the open defecation problem in Accra. At least I have access to a clean toilet.
There are some vegetable growers here using cleaner water, and it is perfectly possible to eat vegetables here safely, if cleaned well, peeled and/or cooked. No more raw spinach for me, though!