Oh Yes, Delhi Belly
This weekend marks two years since I arrived in Delhi. It feels like the right time to reflect on this experience.
One of the things I often get asked about, especially by people who have never visited India, is whether I’ve had the dreaded “Delhi Belly.” This is a colloquialism for any number of forms of food-born illness (not just the “effects” of spicy food). A lot of people assume that if you travel to India you’ll get sick.
The short is yes. I’ve been unwell this week. I was very unwell last year, when a bout of food born Hepatitis kept me at home for two months.
But, apart from that one disastrous experience, which could’ve happened anywhere in the world, I’m not sure if I’ve been more sick here than I was in London. I had some very bad weeks there as well. Maybe people just talk more openly about it here?
Living With Delhi Belly
Still, it’s worth dispelling some common myths; you don’t “get used to it” and locals are not “immune.” What people are used to is making allowances for those with “stomache problems” or the even more frighteningly graphic “loose bowels.” It doesn’t matter how wealthy you are, or how fussy, if you stay here long enough you will get sick.
Many expatriates treat Delhi Belly with an almost penitential attitude, minimizing their suffering by saying it’s always much worse for “the poor people.” But, there’s no nobility in unnecessary suffering. It’s interesting to read about potential vaccines but that doesn’t make my present stomach pains or frequent rushed trips to the toilet any easier.
Of course, we’re prone to being cavalier with the food we eat and the water we drink. It’s human to want to trust.
You learn here to check the seal on water bottles. To avoid warmed rice that might’ve been sprayed with unsafe water to keep it from drying out. You make sure to have a good doctor’s number on your phone and plenty of rehydrating salts in the cupboard.
But, there’s so many steps to bring food to table. So many ways something could go wrong. And, here things often go wrong. You have to be careful.