Dysentery and traveler's diarrhea : incontinence and spiritual lessons
A book excerpt from the Iconoclast Press online library.
The two most memorable instances of internal upset I suffered while out and about in this marvelous, mischievous, maddening world, include one fine May day, when I was sitting on a beach in Gibraltar, after enjoying a hearty British repast which I washed down with a few pints of the Kingdomís finest ales, the likes of which I had longed for every day of my trip to Morocco, from where I had just returned, and where I had unknowingly ingested a healthy dose of some fairly tenacious vermin, which reared up its ugly head in grand, ignominious fashion, as I was sitting unwittingly upon that nice, British-clean beach, and leaned over to fart, and uncontrollably sprayed shit all over the back of my legs. Not a pleasant experience at any time, let alone on a beach dotted with translucent-skinned holiday-makers, none of whom were in the water, because it was May, and Gibraltar might as well be sitting in the North Sea at that time of year for the chill of the water temperature. No matter, I had to bolt from the back of the beach, through the labyrinth of prone bodies, and into the liquid-nitrogen, where I stood belly-button deep and humbly cleaned off my backside, to the curiosity of the crowd, after which I clenched my butt cheeks together, and waddled like a penguin back to my hotel room in Algeciras, Spain, where I spent the next four days spontaneously evacuating on the common throne.
It was an ego-reducing experience, to be sure, but still a mere slap on the backside compared to the kick in the crotch I received a few years later, during a forty-hour ride from Delhi to Kashmir, on a ramshackle old bus, full of angry Muslim men who were continually getting badgered by the Indian army at the omnipresent check-points we had to go through due to the armed uprising in the area.
In this second instance I had been toughing out a bad case of belly-ache and rectal discomfort as we lurched our way along the serpentine mountain highway towards Srinagar, on the last leg of our epic. A young Muslim fellow had befriended myself and a few other westerners, and was interpreting conversations between us and the driver. He was a good chap, whom at one point was curious to see my passport, which I handed to him. Soon after doing so I felt a surge of labor pains shoot from my stomach to my sphincter, and I knew I was about to give birth to a gruesome mudslide, on that bathroomless bus bound for a war-torn piece of heaven. I quickly asked the young Muslim fellow to beg the driver to pull over, which the driver refused to do, because the road was narrow and winding and we would be sitting ducks for other trucks coming along if we stopped. My entreaty had drawn the interest of the entire bus, most of whom seemed delighted at the thought of watching a spindly North American kid make a mess of his trousers. I had to use every ounce of strength I could muster to hold my rectum closed and stave off the breaking dam. And it was at the height of my anguish, when, perfectly choreographed, the young Muslim fellow, leafing through my passport, came to my photo and name, which caused him to hold it aloft, and, in great astonishment and glee, loudly announce- ďHis name is Jack Ass! His name is Jack Ass!Ē Which, as you can imagine, was impossible to deny at that moment.
I had my revenge, in a way, however, as I did not fill my pants on that bus, because, and only because, we came to another check-point within a few minutes after my alias had been unfortunately divulged. What happened is that I ran off the bus as soon as we were stopped, and made it quite apparent to the Indian soldiers what I was in need of, and was quickly directed to an outhouse about twenty meters away from the bus. After cathartically purging into the open pit below, I noticed that there was neither tap nor bucket of water on hand with which to wash my backside, as per the Indian way. Luckily I had a security package of toilet paper on me, and cleaned myself up the old western way, and left the outhouse. That was when the soldier, who was standing near the bus, looked towards me, knowing there was no water in the outhouse with which to wash my hands, and he made a Ďwant-to-wash-your-handsí signal to me, rubbing his hands together and motioning towards a nearby tap, to which I nonchalantly shook my head, and, to the disbelief of the officer, and, I hope, the whole spectating bus, I marched right back onto the bus, with what he and they must have assumed were shit covered hands. Take that you scoundrels. Make an ass of me and Iíll do you one better.
I canít imagine what the other passengers thought of me, and it didnít matter, because the bus arrived in Srinagar soon after that, where I rented a wonderful houseboat run by a fantastic man. And the agony was over.
I sat alone later that night on the deck of that beautiful houseboat, on brilliant Lake Dal, in that mysterious land of Kashmir, soaked in wonder, and listening to the prayer songs of the old Muslim men come wafting over the water towards me from a mosque across the way. Rarely have I ever endured such a journey, and rarely have I endured such ecstasy and anguish at the experience of the unbelievable piety and sound coming upliftingly over the water to me; I was in ecstasy because I was there to hear it, and in anguish because no one was there to hear it with me. But that is life. You have to take the good with the bad or you get neither. If you want to eat, youíve got to accept some shit.
And yet my best Ďshit storyí does not contain a momentous encounter with a fecal flood, but exactly the opposite. Iím speaking of the first ten days on of one of my trips to India- ten days in which I did not have a single bowel movement, which, to be sure, is a record on that continent of incontinence.
I had arrived in Madras as I always arrived on my extended overseas journeys- sick and lovesick. I had said goodbye to my lover of that time, had flown away indefinitely, and en route had been infested with a vicious bug during a two-hour stopover in Seoul, Korea, which caused me, by the time I arrived in Madras, to be in a feverish delirium.
I slept the first night on the cement floor of the Madras airport, and then took a rickshaw to a hotel in the city where I lay awake in agony for three days and nights, at the end of which I decided that if I was going to get better, it was not going to happen in such a barbaric metropolis, and so I made my way to the train station, bought a sleeper seat, and headed north towards my intended destination- the holy beach town of Puri, where I imagined a little sea breeze and a bit of ganja might ease the pain.
Upon arriving in Puri, a day or so later, I paid for a few days in a hotel, and then went to cash some travelerís checks at a nearby bank. That was when I found out that none of the banks in the area would cash Canadian travelerís checks. I was suddenly a very, very poor man, an untouchable, and had barely enough rupees left to buy a ticket for the next train to Calcutta- which wasnít leaving for another four days. And so I sat in that bed-bug ridden hotel room, ravaged both internally and externally by vermin I could not even see, aching from the love I had left forever across the other side of the ocean, and virtually penniless, existing on a few samosas per day. It was a good lesson, but one which would not come to fruition until I finally boarded the train headed slowly north, and it pulled into Calcutta, two days late, as per usual, and, in my delirium, I allowed myself to be misguided onto the wrong ferry across the Hooghly River, and then, soon after, I was caught in the slamming doors of a subway- which I had to take since the ferry had left me nowhere near where I needed to be- because the doors I had been standing near would not open at my stop, and I was forced to charge through the crowded train to the next car, but then almost got carried away by the subway, because, although I was able to get through the doors before they closed, my backpack was caught on the inside, and no way to pull us apart, though I finally broke free in a feverish burst of violence. Then I wearily made my way to the hotel district where I was informed by the clerks at every front door that all the rooms were full, at which point I was broken and emaciated, and must have looked that way, because a young British trollop, who had been on the same train as I, took pity on me and offered to share her room, for which I was greatly thankful. But I still didnít have a rupee on me because the banks in Calcutta do not change travelerís checks either- you have to go to special Ďmoney changersí- and with only a half an hour left before those closed for the evening I left my bag with the Brit and sped off, only to be misdirected a number of times again, until finally, with only a few minutes to spare, I arrived at the money changerís window and swapped a couple of travelerís checks for a few thousand rupees. I was saved. I may have been ill, famished, lost, loveless, and alone, but now I had money, and the sense of security it gave me allowed me to saunter serenely back toward the hotel, to stop for a victory soda at an outdoor stand, and then, at the moment I was thinking how safe I was, and how everything was going to be fine now that I had money again, I was smacked on the head by a massive wooden sign which came flying out of nowhere to strike me- one out of a billion people- and steal that assurance and calm out from under me with a near concussion. But that was all it took- ten days of sickness, poverty, despair, confusion, lostness, infestation, and now injury- that was all it took for me to learn what I was supposed to learn after ten days when I did not take a shit because I was either too ill or too poor to create the excess we have come to call shit- that was all it took for me to know that money cannot guarantee security, and the goose-egg left on my forehead after that was proof enough for me.
Oh, the spirit casts its gentle and not-so-gentle lessons down upon its cherished victims, and, to be sure, though most teachings are unpleasant, and, if not so, are humiliating, the ego and false understandings must be ever diminished, ever weakened, and ever broken in order for such simple wisdoms to penetrate our brutish craniums. Make that- my brutish cranium.
(excerpted from Roots and Wings: adventures of a spirit on earth, by Jack Haas)
Books by Jack Haas: Autobiography, Memoir, Spirituality, Mysticism, Comparative Religion, Poetry, Art, Photography.