I am not a germ finicky person, although I used to have that quality. I think once you become familiar with your surroundings, experiences, and textures, the entire germ finick-i-ness (intentionally made up word) goes out the window. Of course, the best way to treat the mental disconnect of germish-y-ness (intentionally made up word) is to carry one of these with you wherever you go.
The smaller the better. This way, you can secretly whip out the sanitizer, spread it around, and close off the cap in the most inconspicuous way possible. Its not easy, but with training, you can become an expert of cleaning your hands in the midst of a crowded room of people that did not use toilet paper after using the bathroom for the previous week. I am not speaking poorly to the situation, clearly, only the reality. For some, who live off of less than $1.50 USD a day, there are much more important issues than toilet paper...
Water & Food.
I remember the first time in the jungle, (the time when I was exposed to eating chicken soup where the foot of the chicken comes up through the broth), I didn't have the luxury of hand sanitizer, and was left to somehow fend for banana leaves, cement steps, and walls to wipe my hands after any contact with a skirmish type item, (whether they be cockroaches or dead upside down hanging goats that had been slaughtered for lunch.)
However, having been through those challenging moments, the worst "lack of hand sanitizer moment" that left me wishing I had died, was the first night in the jungle, when I had to find my way to the "toilet", which contained only a stall with a hole in the cement. Somehow, I was to manage the balancing act of using the toilet, a.k.a, the hole, while holding onto toilet paper, and having my jeans down around my ankles, hovering over a small hole. Now, I get it, for some, that would be easy, however, in the pitch black of night with no lights is the game changer for any of us. Having no lights to see the walls with, I used my hands to inch my way down into the "crouching" position, and I am not referring to "Crouching Tiger / Hidden Dragon," I am referring to the crafty art of lining up the body with a cement hole in the middle of the night when monkeys and other animals make their night time jungle noises. It was night, there were no lights, and I was desperate. I found my way down to the crouching positions, using my hands to guide my way into the sacred position of release. At this point, I will spare all details, but toilet paper, holes, cement, walls, black, and jeans around ankles is something that all travelers heading to jungles should practice daily for at least 6 months prior to deployment, and I mean deployment to the field, not in the toilet.
To end, the next day, I realized that the walls that I had used to guide myself down into the crouching position with my hands were not just bumpy because of the texture of the wood or cement, but were bumpy because many of the people there didn't have toilet paper to clean themselves, and referred to the walls to remove excess.... I'll leave it there...
I have a long way to go, and I make a lot of mistakes, but I know that I have made great strides in the non-usage of hand sanitizer after having been branded from that experience. Yesterday. as I was watching a soccer match, I was discussing my ongoing frustration with the local government's system of handling marginalized communities by promising, but yet, never delivering, and if to deliver, will be generations later. We were talking as the team members were gathering to begin the day's practice. I was sitting up in the bleachers and was engrossed in conversation about local politics. I had just finished sharing with my colleague in our outreach facility, and I was so humbled and amazed to see the generational change shifting among the community. What was once a humble few conversations on cement steps, (non-bumpy cement), with my colleagues has shifted into an community unification project that is now changing the lives of little 3 and 4 year old children attending the NGO's school.
I'm so grateful that I didn't check out emotionally or physically in that first year along the bumpy wall of the jungle toilet holes, because if I had, I would have missed the opportunity to see God's great plan in the lives of people today. I could almost declare that it was okay that no hand sanitizer was available. Why you might ask? (or perhaps not), because if I had access to the hand sanitizer, it may have protected me from the harsh reality that serving God is not easy, nor is it always a pleasuring experience. It was as though, I needed to suffer through the bumpy walls of that stall to help me understand that God's hand still reached through into the deep halls of the trees within the jungle depths to touch the lives of people that we will have never met.
On too many occasions, we protect ourselves with hand sanitizer because of fear of what might come, however, it might be in the vulnerability of exposure, does God reveal His great plan and glory.
Drop the sanitizer, and back to the soccer field. As we were talking, one of the team members came along with a bag of bread. Bag of bread doesn't probably register well in the minds of the majority of our wealthy individuals as important, valuable, or even relevant, however, in a community where $2.00USD is the status-quo, a bag of bread is of great value. These people don't have a lot to eat.
Regardless of the nearly 13 years that I have been immersed in this beautiful place that I call home, I still drop my cultural ball of sensitivity. The soccer team player offered us bread out of the bag. I have a hidden rule that unless I know where the bag of bread came from, I will not be eating from the bag of bread. Its not a standard rule, mind you, but one that gets played out in my head nearly every time that I get offered a bag of bread, or any other food for that matter from the street. Street food and hospitals go hand in hand, and that's without hand sanitizer. There is no hand sanitizer that will provide comfort for anyone going for street food. The hand sanitizer is equally converted into what I call, the iron stomach lining of experience. This is the only way one can survive the street food. Sometimes, unfortunately if one is not careful, putting your hand to street food and putting it into your digestive system is similar to playing non-sanitized Russian roulette. Risk.
Was it worth it ?
Depends on what chamber the bullet lies.
Depends on what piece of food does the bacteria lie.
Regardless, he offered us the bag of bread, and I declined with a big smile, rubbing my stomach to suggest that I was full, when in reality, it was that I could have easily been suggesting that it would ruin my week. Looking into the eyes of the person who had offered me the bag of bread, I knew I had made a tactical cultural error. (AGAIN). I then felt the bad feeling. However, my colleague next to me, was so gracious and willingly took the bread, and started to eat it right away. The bag of bread friend made his way down the bleachers, offering others more bread. I was amazed. With so little that some of these individuals have in monetary value, they have so much in the personal ethical and moral value of serving others before themselves.
I had just robbed myself of a moment where I could have learned a valuable lesson of receiving from someone when being offered an act of kindness. I had just robbed this person of giving the bag of bread, and I chose not to take the bag of bread, because I feared the result. I was scared for the contents, when in reality, I judged the contents by the cover, and didn't take into consideration what I had learned so many years before, deep in the jungle.
To risk is to live and to live is to experience the fullness of joy and peace found in Jesus Christ. It was the risk of jungle living without hand sanitizer, embracing the risks to see the glory of God revealed.
I should have taken the bag of bread last night, eaten the bread, and taken the risk. In the taking of the risk, I would have engaged the friendship of sharing, giving and taking, and being involved in community.
I believe Christ came to bring us together, in perfect unity. He showed us the way, dropping all judgements, stereotypes, criticisms, and doubts, (including hand sanitizer), to come to the cross of cleansing. If we had used hand sanitizer to clean ourselves, we may have never realized that we needed the eternal cleansing power of the blood of the Cross of Christ to set us free from our fears and embrace the fullness of life in Him.
I'll go for the bag of bread next time.