Saturday, July 25, 2009
When I was a kid, I went to a boarding school called Sakeji in the very north west tip of Zambia. It was a bit like something from a Charles Dickens novel. Very strict.
One time someone donated the school a ton of canned potatoes. The bad thing was that the potatoes tasted faintly of gasoline. We complained, but the word from above was that we should eat our potatoes or we would be given something real to complain about. For the next two months we had gasoline potatoes for lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
It sounds like I'm whining about food that I ate twenty years ago, but I'm not. It wasn't that big of a deal. I'm only giving that as example to show how at Sakeji we ate what we were given.
Most people liked the breakfasts at Sakeji. It was the same every day and it started out with a kind of milky, cracked corn porridge. One morning, I was about to dig into my porridge when I noticed a rat dropping on the top.
I didn't know what to do. Eventually, I decided to eat the porridge that was far away and figure out later on what to do about the rat dropping. Slowly by slowly, I nibbled away all the uncontroversial bits, until I had formed a small round island of porridge with the rat dropping at the center and I could not eat any further.
By this point, when I looked at my bowl, I realised there wasn't very much porridge left and I could probably throw it away without anyone accusing me of wasting food. We talked very proper English at boarding school. I asked, “Excuse me, Miss, there is a rat dropping here. Please, may I throw away the rest of my porridge?” My concern was that instead of throwing everything out, the teacher would just spoon the dropping off the top.
Fortunately, I had a new teacher recently arrived from Scotland. Apparently, she must have hated rats and rat related poo or something. Perhaps she had a general dislike of porridge poo combinations. Either way, she was eager that I do throw it out, immediately.
What made me think of that incident, was an urban legend here in South Africa about a tourist who was really paranoid about the drinking water. He did everything right and even used bottled water to brush his teeth, but right before he got on the plane to go back to America he caught leptospirosis and died. Leptospirosis is spread by rat urine. The story is that the tourist got the disease by drinking coke directly from the can. He would have been safe if only he had used a straw.
It's an irritating myth. You explain to people that it's just a made up story and they respond, “Well... It could have happened.” and you respond, “No. It couldn't have happened.” and they respond, “Well... I still think I'm going to use a straw.”
Listen people, just drink your coke. You do not need a straw. You are not going to die today.
Posted by Dan Carpenter at 5:57 AM