In class today the discussion drifted toward sanitation, and the stark contrasts that exist between different countries, and even within a country. Take
example, where toilettes a hand wash basins are of good quality in Accra, but are
practically inexistent in some rural communities. Because of the lack of
adequate amounts of piped water, hand washing is done with raw water, bathing
happens only occasionally, and restrooms are of the pit toilette type or of the
great outdoors type. I think mothers in all cultures know, at a gut level, that
infectious disease is specter that threatens their children, and that they use
cultural adaptations to deal with it. In Ghana this has evolved into almost
maniacal scrubbing when you wash your hands before a meal, and on their
fondness for soup that can be kept boiling for hours on end to kill all those
Speaking of soup, today I treated myself to a huge bowl of fufu with ground nut soup and big floating chunks of goat meat, goat skin (looks just like pork skin), and smoked fish. Ground nut is the African name for the humble cacahuate or peanut, and as I took my first slurp (eating soup with your bare hand and a scoop of fufu is the accepted way of doing this, which leads to joyful slurping sounds emanating from every table around you), I had but to wonder if ground nut allergies were as prevalent here as they are in the USA. I ate, and ate, out of the giant bowl until I felt I was going to burst, and on my way home I drifted into a food-induced coma.
When I got to my humble apartment I had absolutely no desire to grade papers (funny how that is), so I used the time to finish the book I started reading a few days ago: Good Germs, Bad Germs by Jessica Sachs. The author describes, at length, the mind-boggling abundance of different bacteria in our bodies (more bacteria than number of cells!), how most of them peacefully co-exist with us, how some of them go bad and cause disease, how we have fought them with antibiotics, and how they have evolved into antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Now, I have always touted sanitation as the hallmark of a good life (and still do regarding common intestinal ailments), but am more than ever convinced that living a sterile life is not only impossible, but is likely to be deleterious in the long run. Nature is wise when it gives our kids the instinct to play in the dirt, suck their thumb, or rub snotty noses with their little buddies, for unless they collect a good variety of good bugs, they are more than likely to fall prey to the hordes of bud guys roaming our bodies.
Maybe tomorrow I will have some okra soup at the Bush Canteen.