03 July 2010

Daily Quotation

The dialogue now switched to French, for one of scientists in that country had developed a radically new drug which the French ambassador's wife was explaining, and I thought:  this must be the only capital in the world where a sophisticated international audience can discuss with all seriousness the control of the upper and lower bowel.  Yet no aspect of Afghan life was more significant than this, for when the virulent Asiatic diarrhea, known locally as the Kabul Trots, struck, it was not a like a stomach ache back home.  It was a sickness which nauseated, embarrassed, debilitated and outraged the human body.  In a land where toilet facilities were not excessive, diarrhea was a scourge, and I was willing to gamble that not a single person in that softly lit room, lined with books, was without his or her secret vial of pills and even more secret roll of personal toilet paper.

"What do you do for the disease?" the French ambassador's wife asked Moheb Khan in French.

"It's very simple," Moheb replied in lilting English.  "You Europeans are always shocked at our open water supply into which little boys urinate.  Or worse.  But what happens?  From drinking such water most of our children die, and that's neither a curse nor a blessing.  They die and that's that.  So the life expectancy in Afghanistan is about twenty-three years.  But that figure doesn't mean what it says, not really.  For if by chance you are one of the babies who does not die, you are one of the babies who does not die, you are inoculated against positively everything.  Look about you.  See the large number of our men who live to an extreme old age.  With the women, I can assure you, it is the same.  If you drink our water till you are seven, nothing can kill you but a bullet."  He thumped his chest and laughed.

A rotund English doctor, on temporary duty in Kabul, said quietly, "You know of course, he's not teasing.  Take poliomyelitis, which strikes so many children in an antiseptic country like America..."

"Here no child gets polio,"  Moheb Khan insisted.  "But you Europeans who come to us later in life, when you've not had the inoculations our water imparts...  How many cases have we had of polio among the Europeans?"

"Many, even in my time," the fat doctor concurred.

~ James Michener - Caravans: A Novel of Afghanistan ~

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