Getting the "Point" of International Travel

Despite the fact that it's only a short time until we depart; despite quitting jobs and clients, tossing old files and papers (as Americans, are we really required to keep 20-year-old utility bills?); despite the anguish of preparation and the pain of separation from so much as far as our travels are concerned, today we really got the point. Several times, as a matter of fact in both arms.

We ambled to the municipal health clinic to meet the "travel nurse." Our appointment began with us sitting in the low budget waiting room, surrounded by STD and HIV posters taped to the walls at random angles. We filled out forms asking where we were going, and since many legs of our journey are still in discussion, I answered with continents.

We turned the forms in and waited, filling the time telling Cassidy stories about rusty needles that break off in deep arm muscles when they strike bone.

We soon were directed into a small, windowless room, crowded with cupboards and bright red biohazard needle dispensers. The walls were plastered with warnings about every corner of the earth (except, I noted, Antarctica), and pastel colored medical illustrations of body parts.

The nurse was a professional, and thank God she had a sense of humor. When she looked over our forms she seemed puzzled, and asked us to be more specific about our destinations, after all, continents are rather large you know. As we explained our itinerary she hauled out a number of large, thick books. Rifling through the pages she began the stories, scribbling notes the whole time about what shots we were in for. It wasn't long before her stories slam dunked my rusty broken needle stories with an ugly vengeance, and her notes looked more like the collected notes from the graduating class of Harvard Medical.

Go ahead, name a tropical disease. Try to imagine a disgusting symptom, a feared body reaction, a scene similar to the exploding stomach footage in "Alien." Well, guess what? We're going to go where all of these nightmares begin. It seems that our trip happens to be smack dab center of the world's Petri dish of killer diseases.

It was then that I once again came up with a solution. All this time I've been planning a year's journey like Marco Polo's, but adding a Swiss Army knife, laptop computer, wife and two kids.

But times have changed, the world has grown smaller and more festering. So along with the knife and laptop, we will circumnavigate the globe dressed in bubble suits, stainless steel bubble suits.

While I was trying to imagine getting in and out of third class Indian rail compartments wrapped in biohazard protective clothing, I noticed our nurse. As she continued to babble warnings and graphic descriptions, she was also busy emptying every drawer and cabinet in the room, filling the counter a glittering gross of small, evil vials with tiny labels that I know no one reads, or can read, except three geeks at the Atlanta Center for Disease Control who are slated for the next round of budget cuts.

After she finished covering the counter with these vials, she began hauling out an arsenal of the sterile needles and syringes... enough to keep the actors in Trainspotting happy for years.

She continued with her ode to death and suffering: "Don't eat anything, and if you do have to eat it burn it over flames for at least thirty minutes. Don't drink anything either. If you have to drink, do so before leaving North America. Don't wade, swim, bathe or smell water. If you fall into water, use your Swiss Army knives to peel off the top two layers of flesh." And then she began listing the bugs: "Don't ever go barefoot, round worms you know, as well as square ones, triangular ones, and the most feared of all, the hexagonal worms. They get into your pores and you explode two weeks later. Nothing left but a blood smear and a fat, smiling worm. Wear socks drenched in DDT, and slap on two quarts a day of DEET— sand flies eat you alive from the bottom up. Mosquitoes, mustn't forget them...." and she listed the many diseases they carry and I wondered if they make bubble suits with built in entertainment centers. "Also, bed bugs, chair bugs, pants bugs, toothbrush bugs, there's bugs everywhere, not to mention bird eating spiders that consider humans desert, a thousand variations on scorpions and others, many others we don't know about because the scientists keep dying before they can report them. And oh yes, never touch a local child that's bleeding. In some of the countries you're visiting over half the population has AIDS. And be sure to wash thoroughly after eating with the lepers, and regardless of what you saw in Steve McQueen's "Papillon," don't smoke their cigars."

When I realized that a stainless steel bubble suit would be too heavy to travel in, I began thinking about the excellent travel video collection in the local library. We'd stay in Anchorage, Alaska, be able to eat the local popcorn, cool our drinks with the local ice, and go barefoot as we sat in our sabbatical living room watching movies from around the world for a year. Yea, One Family, One Year, One World, One Video Player.

But it was too late, the nurse had her cruel instruments posed and ready. She chose me to go first. I put up a heroic fight, but finally gave in and told her everything she needed to know about the invasion, the formula for our secret death ray, the home address of our leader and his children's route home from school. But she was not amused and she attacked me with a ruthless passion usually reserved for psychotic knife murders in slasher movies. Both arms. Pow. Many times.

And then the rest of the family, one by one, like a scene from a prisoner of war movie, hauled out screaming to be mauled in front of the rest of us. Before you knew it, it was all over, except for the lead weights and burning in our arms as the Yellow Fever bugs tried to train our systems to dislike their cousins half way around the world. (For those concerned about budgets, the cost for today's torture was $570, and there's more to come. I suppose it's less than the alternative, but still, did Marco Polo cry when he got his shots?)

Of course we're happy to be so well protected. In fact, the upside is we can now buy ground zero property in Chernobyl since we may be the only living things that can survive there.

And, in case anyone was wondering about what Vladine the Impaler of Anchorage thought about us: when she had finished her voodoo rituals on our bodies, and scaring the heebie-jeebies out of us with her morbid tales of suffering, she leaned back in her chair, giggled, and said we were "the most dramatic family" she'd ever met. We'd do fine in our travels, she added. We'd keep anyone, the mudpeople, the cargo cult, the zealots and the faquirs entertained for weeks. But just remember, don't breathe the air...

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