While living in a bamboo hut surrounded by tropical diseases, germs my body wasn’t use to, and very unhygienic situations, I kept thinking, I have to write about Propolis. (What is Propolis? Patience my friend.) If you’re planning on travelling overseas where the hygiene conditions will challenge you immune system, then keep reading.
You see, I never got diarrhoea. (Which is a complete lie. I was away for 98 days living in the jungle in Thailand, and on my 4th last day I ate spaghetti that some WESTERNERS cooked, and I got the runs – ONCE!! Which is why I like to say I never got diarrhoea. Also, towards the end of the trip we were becoming more relaxed and we weren’t taking Popolis daily like we use to).
So, you see, I “never” got diarrhoea
Let me explain our situation. My husband and I decided we would help an American family that runs a school and children’s home for Karen (ku-ren) children along the border of Burma and Thailand. The family had to return to America for visas reasons and needed a couple to look after their home – which was also a children’s home. To start with we had three babies (10-months old), 2 toddlers, 3 children between 5-8 years old and 9 teenagers – all in a rotting bamboo hut. I’m not joking, this place was falling apart.
There’s just so much to say to describe the place, and even with pictures it’s hard to imagine without being there. The children are not use to washing their hands with soap after going to the toilet, they readily eat with their hands (even if it’s a curry), it is very normal for one household to share the same drinking cup (Gasp away! I still can’t get my head around that. Actually, if you want to read a newsletter I wrote on the lack of knowledge see a newsletter I wrote here). I haven’t even touched base with washing dishes or cleaning food.. I don’t want to write a novel here, and I already feel like I’m waffling big style!
During our time there, we were literally surrounded by (deep breath); diarrhoea (and I mean lots of people had it, even the locals), colds and flus (all the infants had fevers at least once while we were there – very scary), malaria, dengi fever (makes malaria look like a small itch), staph infection (scary!), worms, lice, infections on any part of the body you can imagine, children in our home with hepatitis and there’s probably more I can’t think of right now.
Now not all of these things are contagious, some are, and some come from a lack of knowledge and hygiene. We were very concerned that we would have diarrhoea while out there. We heard of other volunteers practically living on charcoal water and having sicknesses that they couldn’t shake months after returning home. We were told if you eat the food from the school cafeteria, you can expect diarrhoea for 3 months until your body gets use to it. Problem is, we weren’t long-term volunteers, we were only there for three months and didn’t have time to get use to the germs.
Our plan was simple, stay clean, cook our own food, and here’s the secret (which I can vouch for from personal experience).
We are sure that Propolis saw us through without getting sick.
[Exception: One morning we both woke up with extremely sore throats, nothing came of it. We were at the point of exhaustion. We had sick babies and toddlers waking all through the night, and being even needier during the day. Plus cooking, cleaning, washing, and much much more.]
At the start of the trip we did eat a handful of times from the cafeteria out of necessity. We took Propolis daily, and we didn’t get sick. Other volunteers came, they ate the food from the cafeteria and guess what?? They got the runs! Not only the runs, but one of them was constantly sick with something the whole time we were there.
So, what is Propolis? My little summary of it goes something like this, “Propolis is what bees use to cocoon an intruder that dies in their hives to protect the hive from being infected, or to seal gaps in the hives from wind. It acts as a natural antibiotic.” I read somewhere that a mouse had been found in a hive cocooned in Propolis. There’s more information online, just take a look, but be very careful if you already have allergies to bees.
We hesitated to buy Propolis before we left as we just spent almost $1000 on getting shots, anti-malaria medication, and other vitamins that we needed for the trip. We decided to bite the bullet because we really didn’t want to be crippled by bad diarrhoea while we were out there.
I don’t think I’ve done a good enough job in describing our situation. So some more in point form:
- The hut had a dog. The first month was the rainy season. This dog would jump inside with its muddy feet and shake itself everywhere. So that’s normal I guess? Well, there were other dogs in this village. Who knows what dead things, or other dogs butts this dog was sniffing and transferring to me whenever it decided to lick me after rudely entering the hut.
- The toddlers had been potty trained before we got there. Their routine was taking their pants off in the hut, climbing over the rails that stop the babies from falling outside, rubbing their butts and whatever else all over these rails that people touch with their hands and sit on (yes me too, I sat on these often, but on the other end). And of course, after going to the toilet that routine was played in reverse.
- Plates that were apparently washed by the children sometimes had a small swam of fruit flies – now how clean do you think they were?
- Children would go to the toilet with no toilet paper and no soap.
- About three times I saw a tape worm on the kitchen floor. Cringe.
- Rats! Oh my, I almost forgot to mention the fresh droppings that were EVERYWHERE each morning. Every surface in the kitchen had to be wiped down before there was even room to put anything on. It wasn’t just the rats, there were spiders, ghekos, moths, and ants eating everything the previous critters left behind after their midnight snack.
- Going to the toilet. So my routine went like: sneak toilet paper in my bra, go to the squatting toilet outside (if I was really unfortunate I had to go at night, at which point my face was attacked by anything that can fly because of your head torch), do my business (hopefully I haven’t had to touch anything like the bucket to clean the toilet first because the previous customer was not so considerate – this makes getting the toilet paper out of my bra with clean hands very tricky business), use the bucket to get water out of a small tank which has a lovely wide ledge to put the bucket on. But no, for some reason the bucket is put in the water!! So you have to go fishing to get the bucket.. Flush, and even though you want to get out of there asap, you must do it slowly to avoid splatter, then step over some nasty water to leave the toilets. Such an ordeal. I became very dehydrated there, and don’t think I ever saw my pee come out clear.
- There was a lot, and so much more, but it’s starting to sound like complaints – I’m just doing my best to paint a picture. I also want to mention that all water except drinking and cooking water came from the river. When there was heavy rain the water came out brown.
With all that and more we didn’t get sick. And we should have. We constantly had toddlers and babies snotting, drooling and occasionally vomiting all over us. We were physically covered in the potential to get sick – and we didn’t!!
I highly recommend Propolis if you decide to travel. I know from past travels that I do not have a strong stomach. Even going to developed Asia countries like Singapore or Hong Kong, I still have upset tummies (actually some of the worst I think is humanly possible!). One bottle of 200 Propolis capsules cost us around $40 I think – I can’t remember for sure.
Why don’t they just teach them about hygiene,” first walk a mile, or three years in their shoes, and you’ll see how far they’ve come. Just incase the thought popped into your mind, it also popped into ours. Slowly we realised what an uphill battle it is to teach new things, to encourage the consistency when there are so many children (200), and also to fund luxuries such as toilet paper when there are more pressing needs – such as food.
I did some research and compelled a list of some quite humorous nicknames for what I call Traveller’s Diarrhoea.
Bali belly, Montezuma’s revenge, Tourista, Delhi belly, the Jamaican runs, Gandhi’s Revenge, The Rangoon Runs, Bombay Belly, Gyppy Tummy, The Cairo Two-step, Pharaoh’s Revenge, Mummy’s Tummy, Hershey Squirts (USA), Down Under Butt Chunder (Australia), Suryavarman’s Revenge, Kathmandu quickstep and Beaver fever (Canada).
I would love to know if someone has had a similar experience with Propolis?
p.s Even with the conditions listed above, we can’t wait to go back!