Not so Gap Yah: Food poisoning made me racist this summer
It’s frightening how quickly charity can turn selfish abroad – and, in my case, racist
For the past few months your Facebook has been one long stream of bragging: “Oh look at me, I’m finding myself in South America”, “Ooh look at me, I’m doing a big dick-swinging city internship”, “Oooh look at me, I’m surrounded by smiling black children in Africa”.
If I sound bitter and twisted, it’s because I am. I spent the past seven weeks in Nepal and, indeed, much of that time was spent merrily contributing to the flow of photos and blog posts which stream from the developing world to the UK every summer as sheltered, privileged students “discover” how the majority of the planet live. It was all going rather well. I worked with a great NGO, met some truly interesting people and got bare likes on a new profile picture.
Then I got food poisoning.
“The Shits” are a fairly standard aspect of travelling, and up to that point I’d faced a few bouts with good humour and relative dignity. I’d pop some Imodium, keep an eye on my food intake and, after a couple of days of strategically planning all movements around sprinting times to the nearest toilets, I’d get back to normal. But just two days before I was due to fly home I was hit by the mother of all shits.
It reduced me to a swearing, stumbling wreck. It made me vomit, cry, sweat, even bleed (when I got a paper cut from the surprisingly jagged edge of a rehydration sachet) but worst of all: it made me racist.
That food bug made me despise anyone and anything Nepalese. As I lay in bed I cursed the chef who had given me food poisoning, and his family, and his people. I developed a very real hatred of a place I had grown to really rather like, and this was exacerbated by the journey back.
The flight from Kathmandu to Abu Dhabi was packed. I was one of just three westerners, and frequent toilet trips in the airport had left me exhausted and irritable. The lady opposite me started stretching mid-flight and stuck her arse in my face. A few moments later she started burping.
At dinner time the whole flight must have gone for the curry option (typical) because fifty minutes later the toilet queue genuinely stretched down half the plane. This meant I had to stand and wait for what felt an eternity as my stomach churned and cramped. When I finally got to the toilet I could have been in the seventh level of Dante’s hell.
At this point, my mood was so bad, and I hated my fellow flyers so much, that even the delightful elderly lady I was sat next to who laughed at my every word (I later learnt that she spoke no English so not much of a brag), made “raise the roof” gestures while hysterically laughing at take-off, and knocked back countless free whiskies at an admirable rate, couldn’t lift the red and frankly racist mist that had descended.
When we landed, the sods didn’t know proper etiquette and it was a free-for-all. What happened to waiting your turn, the “after you”, “oops, sorry” and awkward shuffling of decent British travellers?
Now I’m not normally a racist. I was banned from commenting on the Britain First page, I voted for the Lib Dems and I have foreign friends (which means I definitely cannot be racist).
But on that plane I am ashamed to say I felt genuine disgust for my fellow travellers. They who were part of a migration movement which sees 1,500 Nepali people flee poverty, ruin and inopportunity every day, to slave away in horrific conditions in the Emirates. They who had probably never been on a plane before and had not, like myself, been exposed to plane etiquette before they could even walk. They who had caught a flight to take them to a world of uncertainty, exploitation and possibly death, while I headed home after a seven week jolly.
Some time to calm down, a tonne of Imodium, several more rehydration sachets and a few nights of sleep soon stymied the bug which made the world fall out of my arse – and cured my temporary racism. In my pain and discomfort I directed my anger and hate at a group of people who’d done nothing to hurt me.
I don’t know if there is a moral to this epic tale of shitting and racism but, if the two are connected, then perhaps racists might do better if we sent them each a packet of Imodium. Just in case.
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