Sunday, August 16, 2009

Love in the Time of H1N1



I watched on of those travel shows the night before I left home. In this series, a ‘personality’ is patched into an organised backpacking tour of a foreign country. Basically they get to interact a lot with the local taxi drivers, the odd random teashop dweller and the kind of characters one meets on the road and the result is filmed.
The episode I watched was set in India. A netball star coped with just a small film crew and her own resources.
It made me think about why we travel and how it is that we do so. For myself there is a curiosity about the people that draws me to a place, I want to know what makes them laugh or cry or stir to action, I want to understand the rhythm of their daily lives and find the bridge that exists between us. In the face of The Other I am looking for a mirror. What is it about us that is the same and how are our differences so different anyway?
I felt strangely sad to watch the travel show and realise that while I believe our urge to travel is about our urge to experience brotherhood in fact that simple heart connection between travellers and locals is rare enough these days to become the basis of a television series. Ironically the series is called Intrepid, after the name of the tour company.
To me an intrepid traveller is one of those god like Scandinavian mountain climbers strolling at altitude in the high Himalaya, or a solo yachtsman rolling on a forty-foot swell. These people are pimped and prepared and frighteningly intrepid. I feel more like Forest Gump by comparison.
These days, simply to travel is almost to be considered intrepid. I refuse to believe in Swine Flu or H1N1. First of all, please! Whatever happened to names like Cholera and the Plague and Consumptive Fever all perfectly romantic and tragic diseases. Heroines can die of cholera and its poetic, something to base a novel around, but swine flu just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
It’s something almost to be ashamed of. Or paranoid about especially when you
are jammed inside long queues at New Delhi Airport. Two planeloads of people are crowded in an area under the escalators, queuing and curling in a snakelike formation in order to pass through the temperature testers.
This seems to me to be Indian logic at its best If by chance someone in the teeming crowd of exhausted arrives did have some contagious disease then by the very manner in which the screening was organised, we were all potentially exposed.
In Kuala Lumpur screening of passengers was as subtle and efficient as one would expect in South East Asia. We hardly paused in passing through the temp checkers.
Someone near me started to cough. I notice that this coughing is also noticed by at least six people around me. I wonder if I should take the names of the people around me who cough or splutter or (god forbid) sneeze! I clear my throat nervously and hope like hell that I don’t have a hot flush.
After an hour or snaking and queuing and eyeing each other nervously, we form a single queue and the desk is in sight. I wonder if I can claim menopausal immunity to the test since hot flushes are random and or triggered by small stresses. Two men ahead of me are hauled off for temperature misdemeanours.
I imagine myself being dragged off for the crime of being hot and tired and human.
It hurt my feelings to think that Mother India with her generous visiting and entry rights should do this to her guests. So much for guest is god, I grumble to myself.
Suddenly its my turn, my hormones behave and for the lack of a single hot flush I am granted entry into the country and escape into the night.
Even better, within ten minutes I am arguing with a taxi driver, hot and tired, and totally human again. Intrepid as.

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