Sunday, May 3, 2015

A review of Jane Wilson-Howarth's How to Shit Around the World...

The following is a repost of a review I wrote in 2008.  I posted it on Epinions and have revived it for your reading pleasure.  The book was Jane Wilson-Howarth's excellent 2006 book, How to Sh*t Around the World.  

International travel can be a very rewarding and fun way to learn about the world. It can also be fraught with unforeseen hazards. Take, for instance, a nasty experience I had when I was serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Armenia. One day, I had the misfortune of drinking some contaminated water. I ended up with a case of giardia that gave me diarrhea for two weeks. It wasn't fun, but I did learn a lesson. Getting sick is easy to do when you're in an unfamiliar place and you don't take care to practice scrupulous hygiene.

That's why Dr. Jane Wilson-Howarth's 2006 book, How to Sh*t Around the World: The Art of Staying Clean and Healthy While Traveling is such a good title for anyone planning to venture outside their comfort zone.  Wilson-Howarth is a well-traveled British woman who studied ecology and also happens to be a medical doctor. Combining her fields of study with her many travels has made this author very knowledgeable about how to stay healthy in places where cleanliness is not a top priority.  How to Sh*t Around the World is a very practical book, written with a common sense approach and a dash of humor thrown in for good measure. The author offers straightforward advice, but also includes some chuckle worthy anecdotes presented by other, mostly British, travelers. Those humorous anecdotes coupled with truly useful information makes this book worth reading. 

What can would be travelers expect to learn by reading this book? 

Above all, Jane Wilson-Howarth emphasizes keeping clean and not eating questionable food. She explains how to determine when diarrhea is traveler's diarrhea and when it's something else. She informs her readers about how to tell when water is safe to drink. She is quick to remind readers that when they come across unfamiliar foods in less than sanitary locations, they should boil it, peel it, cook it, or forget it, and they should try to eat piping hot, freshly prepared food. In fact, she writes that buffet food in a fancy international hotel is liable to be riskier than freshly prepared food at a filthy roadside stand. Food that's been sitting around for awhile is more likely to be toxic. 

But there's more to this book than preventing food and water borne illnesses. Jane Wilson-Howarth also explains the best way to eliminate waste where there are no toilet facilities. In fact, she goes into great detail about how to take a dump safely while out in the woods or using an outdoor toilet, reminding readers to be sure they don't have any company from the animal kingdom or aren't sharing space with any toxic plants before they cop a squat. 

What kinds of nasty bugs are out there, anyway? 

Jane Wilson-Howarth does a fine job of describing the many types of disease causing microbes, worms, and other creatures that can cause people to get sick. Some illnesses are surprisingly easy to contract, even in the so-called first world. Other illnesses are harder to catch or, in the case of Guinea Worm, are even close to eradication. 

Other great things about this book...

At the end of each chapter, Jane Wilson-Howarth includes a quick list of tips that are very practical as well as interesting. For example, did you know that malaria causing mosquitoes like sweaty feet? One way to reduce the risk of contracting malaria, then, is to make sure your feet are clean and dry before you go to bed. She also includes a chart in the middle of the book that shows how often people should be immunized. At the end of the book, there's a reading list, as well as a list of online information sources. I particularly liked the fact that the author included a Web site for the Whizzy, a handy apparatus for women who are unable to squat. What's more, this book is not very big or heavy, so it's easy to tote in a backpack or even a large purse. 

My one minor complaint about this book... (Besides the fact that the Epinions language filter forces me to censor the title...) 

Some of the advice Jane Wilson-Howarth gives is pretty much common sense. For instance, she reminds her readers that they should always carry some toilet paper with them. She also advises not diving headfirst into unknown waters. On the other hand, sometimes even obviously common sense advice is important to reiterate. Sometimes even people who have common sense are liable to check it at the door in the excitement of going on a trip, especially if the trip is to an exotic locale. Sometimes it's a good thing to be explicitly reminded of what should really go without saying. 

Overall

When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, we were issued copies of Where There Is No Doctor, a rather thick, simply written manual that could be used to educate locals about food hygiene, nutrition, and staying healthy. In my opinion, How to Sh*t Around the World would have been a much more practical and enjoyable title for us to have as Peace Corps Volunteers. Not only is it more relevant, it's also a lot more fun to read and practical. Naturally, for that reason, I think it's a great guide for anyone who's planning to travel to exotic or rustic locations. Jane Wilson-Howarth provides advice that is down to earth, entertaining to read, and above all, very useful. I highly recommend it.  



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