When I travelled to India, I was a rookie at travel-the real rookie-it was the first time I was travelling solo to a place I knew no-one at all. The most I knew about India was the Taj Mahal and the village I was to volunteer for two months . That is how I found myself in India, in a little village called Boothgargh, in Hoshiapur https://wangechigitahi.co.ke/2014/05/28/india-hoshaipur/ . I thus did not carry any medication incase immigration saw them and decided to return me home thinking they were drugs (I had heard stories), I didnt get any vaccination(I didnt even know one should do that) and no travel insurance-it is separate from your medical cover in most cases and even that I didn’t know.
This ignorance combined with naivity came to bite me later-literally. One day as I was walking around the village, enjoying the fresh air, listening to the chirping of birds, enjoying the sight of green folliage and excited about the event that was to happen later in the day, which is where I was heading to assist, a dog decided to spice up my experience.
Along the path, I met three lovely ladies all dressed in their beautiful Punjab suits that are made up of a) Kurti -which is a loose fitting shirt that falls just above the knees, b) Patiala salwar that is a loose pleated pair of pants that are pleated and stitched together at the bottom, creating a draping effect and c)Dupata, which is a loose fitting scarf or head covering similar to my picture below. As we passed each other, we all brought our hands together as if ready for prayer and uttered the words “Sat Shri Akaal” which means “God is truth” and is how everyone in the Punjab community greets each other.
As we passed each other to continue with our walk, I got a bad gut feeling that made me turn back and Bam! I found their dog, mid-air, its sharp teeth exposed, gnarling as it aimed at the back of my thigh. I jumped, the owner tugged tightly at its leash but alas, though it hadn’t managed to sink its teeth into my flesh-I thank God, I wasn’t left unscarred-it had managed to scratch the back of my knee with its teeth exposing some flesh. To this day, I think that after the dog passed me, it must have wondered who/what was that dark person it had just passed, it had never seen anyone like me-it had to attack. Kindly note, I was the first African, and black at that, the whole community and even fellow volunteers had ever seen let alone interacted with. I stood there numb and horrified as all the stories of dog bites and rabies flooded my mind. I remembered it causes fever, headaches, paralysis, paranoia, terror, inflamation to the brain and I had heard of people going insane and in worst case scenarious- death. I tried to reason with myself, it had an owner, it had been vaccinated-I hoped.
The ladies sensing my fear, gently held me by the shoulders and told me “no problem” and that was the end of that conversation as they led me to walk with them. You need to understand, I was deep in the village, very few people understood or spoke English and thus , this was part of the few English words they spoke. I followed them like a zombie, I was hoping they would take me perhaps to their village elder or doctor, someone who could help.
Lo and behold, we slightly got off the main path and there ahead of me was a large cow (I honestly still believe those are buffalos), lazily chewing curd at what seemed like the entrance to their homestead. One lady rushed inside while the others took me to a tap and gently started washing my wound. They washed it over and over and over again as the water was running. Soon after, the lady returned with what seemed like chili-it was red, and they applied it on my leg, washed it off, applied it, washed it off several times and eventually applied chillie and tied a cloth around it as you would a band aid. They then gave me the OK sign and repeated severally, “Achha” “Achha”, which means Ok, Ok. And with that, my mind was set at ease, I figured, this must be how it is done in the village and when in Rome, do as the Romans do-I was Ok, I was “Achha”. I thereafter went on to prepare and participate in a festival that was happening at the village and had an amazing time, all thoughts of the incident pushed to the back of my mind.
I shared my predicament later in the day with our caretaker Mr. Tara Singh-a man I will forever be grateful for. He advised that I should be fine-just to wash the leg 12 times as I applied soap and let the water run over it. This I did diligently and 30 times at that, just to be sure. By evening, I was a celebrity, people came to see/ find out about the girl who had been bitten by a dog “word goes round fast in small villages” with some even referring to me as brave “if they only knew.” I was mentally fine, and the next day, my friends and I moved to a different village-Adhamwarl, to volunteer for a few days.
Lo and behold, after about three days, friends from Boothgargh came over to take us on a tour to a city called Amritsar which is about 2 hours away. When they heard I still had not gotten an anti-rabies or tetenus shot/injection, they blew a fuse. They reminded me of the dangers of rabies and there for the first time in a long time I was scared. I suddenly noticed my wound was a bit swollen, I suddenly started feeling a bit hot and I couldnt stop but wonder whether I would die of rabies or stupidity.
That is how I found myself at a chemist, without much a do of questioning their expertise or certification, requesting to get both a rabies and and a tetenus shot-I wasn’t taking chances any more. Good thing the price of this vaccination is also pocket friendly. The rabies vaccine used-Rabipur is made up of a white powder and a clear solvent. I watched as he poured the liquid into the bottle with powder, mixed it and then sucked it with a syringe. I felt no shame as I sat at a bench near the door, exposed for all to see as I got the two jabs administered- the hospital to me at that point was too far, we had to arrest the situation pronto.
I was thereafter advised to follow up with three more anti-rabies post exposure vaccination shots which occured on the 3rd day from the first shot (also taken at a chemist-hospital was too far from my location at the time), day 7 and day 14 . Now, for the last two shots, I had returned to Boothgargh and I decided I should at least see a doctor and share my experience with them incase we missed something. The monsoon period had begun, the rains were unforgiving, pouring in torrents and flooding the streets. By the time I was making it to the doctor, I had walked throuth thigh high mucky waters, I was drenched but I was determined to get the shot on the recommended days not withstanding that I may be at risk of picking something from the dirty water or the torrential rain.
Safe to say, I never did get rabies-Thank God. But I ensured to keep souvenirs from this episode as a reminder of how a great trip can get exciting to say the least-and not in a good way. Also, it was to be a reminder that when I traveled next, I needed to do adequate research and permanently divorce any form of ignorance or stupidity. I should however commend the Boothgargh community because I later learnt from Medic- Wikipidia, the recommended first aid that should be given to one exposed or at risk of rabies before they see a doctor or get a vaccine is to….drum rolls please-Wash bites and scratches for 15 minutes with soap and water, povidone iodine, or detergent may reduce the number of viral particles and may be somewhat effective at preventing transmission https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabies -who would have guessed. Stay safe people.