Friday, September 25, 2009

Seven more sleeps ′til India

By Laurie Wong
Bachelor of Physical Education and Coaching graduate

With a week to go before my departure for India, I feel both anxious and nervous. No matter how much I read about India and Dharamsala, there seems to be an unknown factor. I guess that’s the interesting part of traveling.

Missing my family
My son Chris has drawn sad faces on my departure date on the family calendar and he is counting down for me. It is beginning to hit me that I will be away from my children and my husband for 11 weeks. I sure am going to miss them! So, in preparation for this void I borrowed a web cam, bought a headset and learned how to use Skype. However, due to limited access to cybercafés, I might be communicating with them only once a week.

The malaria dilemma
One huge dilemma for me in the last month has been whether to take malaria pills or not. Many travel doctors are recommending them according to the malaria risk map. But reading about the possible side effects and talking to some people who have taken them made my decision difficult. Some possible side effects are stomach pain, depression, psychosis, difficulty with night vision – and these appear to affect many people. With the passing of the monsoon season in India and Dharamsala being at high altitude, the risk of malaria is greatly reduced.

After discussing this further with another doctor and my faculty associate, I have decided not to take malaria pills. To further reduce the risk, I am bringing lots of natural insect repellant with citronella (extract from lemon grass roots) for application directly on my skin and insect repellant with DEET (quite a harmful chemical) on my clothes. I am also bringing a mosquito net for my sleeping quarters – hopefully all of these things will keep the mosquitoes away from me.

Beat the heat
The temperature in Delhi this week averaged about 37°C, but to avoid being inappropriately touched by strangers it is advised to wear clothes that do not show too much skin. Dressing with good coverage is also a way to respect the Tibetan and Indian cultures. While working in schools, long pants, long-sleeved tops and knee-length exercise shorts are required. My problem is that I will not be comfortable wearing my long-sleeved tops and pants from Canada in such heat. One way to solve this problem is to wear local attire. So, my strategy is to not bring too many clothes from home and instead buy local outfits as soon as I get there. Apparently I can get a custom-made outfit with cool fabric for about $5 CAD!

Everything in moderation
Indian cuisine varies from region to region, which means the variety and the amount of spices may be quite different. Although I enjoy Indian cuisine in Vancouver, I plan to ease my stomach into India’s spicy cooking. I will be packing some bottled water and comfort foods (peanut butter, granola bars and some dried fruits and nuts) in my luggage. I have also begun to take probiotic supplements to increase the healthy bacteria load in my stomach. In addition, I will bring some electrolytes in case I do get diarrhea, but I really hope that I will not get sick!

My next entry will be from India! Seven more sleeps…

Laurie Wong is headed to India for the Professional Development Program (PDP) at SFU as part of the International Teacher Education Module. She will be filing stories for doug during her adventures in India – stay tuned.