Mind you, I am NOT a germaphobe. In the states, I probably take more liberties than most with the various bacteria hiding out on bathroom doorknobs, kitchen counters and recycled water bottles. And, I’m sure I have raised a few eyebrows with my disregard for the consequences of rescuing a savory morsel that managed to escape my plate and land on the floor. I always chalked it up to my super powered immune system, which is inundated with a steady flow of vitamin and probiotic supplements. After all, I rarely get sick, so no need to lather myself up with copious amounts of anti-bacterial gel; I have an army of antibodies ready for battle. I also recognize that there is a tendency in the U.S. to over-sanitize, purify, and pasteurize every last molecule that resides in anything fit for consumption until is hardly a memory of its natural state.
So, armed with my normal dose of vitamins, I felt prepared to fully embrace the conditions I imagined would be inherent in a remote area in the DRC. Let’s just say that I have definitely found myself a bit hesitant, (or perhaps panicked is a better word) to ingest the contents that are often placed before me. For starters, soap is a bit hard to come by. I can usually conjure something up in the main house, usually the dish soap in the kitchen. For the workers, however, it is not so readily available. It is a luxury item here (along with toilet paper), so it is kept locked up in a cupboard. Each morning, Christophe scoops out a specific amount that is weighed on a scale and then distributed to the workers for their daily shower (which is taken here on the grounds). As far as I have seen, washing the dishes, at least in the Sanctuary, (where are lunch is prepared) entails an extremely weathered scrub brush and tap water.
The drinking water is boiled, but then stored in plastic water bottles, which held their initial fresh, purified contents a very long, long time ago. You know the smell, the water bottle that you refilled a couple of times, then left in your gym bag for a while, then opened it and decided against it. I’ve found it best just to shut off my senses and chug.
Then there is the issue of electricity. We have none. This means that the refrigerator now serves as more of a bug and cat deterrent, rather than a means to cool and preserve perishable items. I refrained from trying to explain my loss of appetite when Carmen offered me the leftover chicken from two nights before…I just couldn’t do it and have since declared myself as a reborn vegetarian. This better serves my conscience as well as my stomach. Although the treatment of the animals is no worse here than in the states, it is much more exposed and simply too close to home.
Alas, I have just finished my first round of antibiotics, taken a break from my carnivorous tendencies and made my bottle of anti-bacterial gel my new constant companion.