There is a widespread contagion sweeping across Sri Lanka. It is highly infectious and is primarily contracted by unprepared tourists visiting the island. And sadly, there is little hope for those infected. Twenty minutes out of the airport and I had already caught the disease… and it nearly ruined us.
Janae and I arrived at the airport in Colombo at approximately 8 pm. Customs took approximately 10 minutes to clear. We were then handed a SIM card with phone number to use temporarily while on vacation. We did not have to claim anything despite the massive amount of produce and snacks stuffed into my backpack. The snacks was safe. They had come from Abu Dhabi. Sri Lankan food we had heard, on the other hand, not so much.*
Many people had told me to steer clear of eating or drinking anything that may have come in contact with the local water. Sri Lanka, like many developing countries, and even some developed countries, has a problem finding potable water for its residents. For this reason, and for the fact that Janae is a nurse, we had read up on many of the illnesses and such that plague tropical countries. Tidbits of information on Malaria and Dengue Fever crept up our consciousness as we left the airport into the muggy early-April night.
Our driver Niroshan, which we had conveniently employed for the week, took our luggage and packed them into his air-conditioned silver Toyota. The streets were narrow, the automobiles many, and there was a cow on the side of the road – Was that a cow? Yes, Niroshan replied calmly. Do they love and worship them here like they do in India, I asked.
The first symptoms of Foot in Mouth disease had begun to take hold.
We made small talk about where we were all from, which then morphed into why we had chosen Sri Lanka. All the while, thoughts on food and water–borne illnesses still permeated my prefrontal lobe. I asked another question. Has anyone ever gotten sick in your car? Niroshan took it for a question of car sickness, of which he replied in the negative. I clarified. I meant has anyone gotten sick from the food you eat here? Like thrown up in you car, bad water kind of sick?
Not only was I getting nowhere with these questions, but I began to develop a slight pain in my lower right knee. I swear it had not been there before.
We continued our small talk about Sri Lanka when the conversation led towards talk of a Sri Lankan city called Kandy. He asked us whether we would like to visit there on our trip. I replied, “I haven’t heard many good things about Kandy. Don’t really see the need to go there.” A shooting pain in my knee made me sit up straight. I looked down to see Janae’s hand pinching my leg furiously with a disapproving look on her face.
It seems that one of the symptoms of Foot in Mouth disease is short-term memory loss. Not two minutes before, in our previous conversation, Niroshan had mentioned that he currently lives in Kandy with his wife and children. I had just told this pleasant little Sri Lankan man that his hometown was of no interest to me or to anyone else I have been in contact with. I attempted a quick antidote to soothe the burning situation by saying, “But I’m sure it’s very nice. What do you recommend?”
Once more… crickets.
In retrospect, it is a good thing that we were paying this man to drive us or we just may have had the quickest trip in spring break history. Either way, for the next 15 minutes, as we drove the rest of the way to our hotel, I let Janae do the talking. Because apparently, I needed a vaccination for my disease. Niroshan had already taken his shots.