Shot-free in India
In May, my husband Walton and our two year old daughter Lilly, and I returned from a six month stay in India. we were in India because I had received a grant from the Indo-American Fellowship program to research Tantric art as a contemporary artist. In addition to this, a major concern was how to stay healthy in this third world country that none of us had ever been to before.
We stayed well! Partly I feel that we were fortunate, and partly I feel that the knowledge I'd gathered and applied kept us healthy.
We traveled in northern India and settled in Benares for three months. We stayed in modest guest houses, traveled by train, and ate all of our meals in restaurants.
To prepare for the trip I read the Lonely Planet guidebook, Travel With Children, by Maureen Wheeler and listened to as many people as I could who had been to India, especially to mothers who had taken children with them. Many people gave me the names and addresses of individuals and families living there, as well as doctors, all of which was very comforting.
For entering India no shots are required but plenty are recommended. Although I had no intention of getting any shots for either myself or our daughter, I still wanted to get the travelers information from the Center for Disease Control. It was nice to see that aside from the regular childhood shots, most of the shots for travel to India were not recommended for a child under two anyway.
From the C.D.C. and the Physicians Desk Reference I got condensed information on Malaria. My decision to forgo taking a Malarial prophylactic was strengthened when I learned that the drugs don't prevent one from getting Malaria, they only mask the symptoms. I had prescriptions filled for us all in case I changed my mind but we never used them.
Avoiding mosquito bites was at first a stressful preoccupation which soon became habitual. I was very aware that besides four types of malaria, mosquitoes could be carrying Dengue fever. Even though we traveled during the dry, cool season there was still a noticeable amount of mosquitoes, but fortunately they were only active from dusk to dawn. We always slept under a mosquito net, no matter well screened the hotel room seemed, and in the evening I was quick to cover myself with clothing. On exposed skin Walton used a DEET containing bug spray and Lilly and I used and Indian cream called Odomus. Despite my great care we all got some bites sometimes so I had to learn to do my best to avoid bites and then not to worry about it.
Most people wonder what we fed Lilly since Indian food is so spicy. That was never a problem because there was always something I could get that was mild. I noticed Indian children her age being fed rice mixed with curd (yogurt) so I gave that to her and she liked it very much. She was also still breastfeeding.
Since I was counting on the idea of eating well to stay healthy, I was very surprised and concerned that the food often seemed so inadequate nutritionally. I could only think in negative terms about it- "only white rice", "only white bread", "such overcooked vegetables". I shared these thoughts with my husband and he said he felt like his diet was better than ever. He was eating so many more vegetables (true), and grains (true), and since he couldn't get coffee he wasn't drinking that anymore or eating his usual pastries in the morning. So I decided to think positively about my diet and instantly became much happier. As I learned more about Indian food I found that I could put together a good nutritious diet after all.
I took multi-vitamins, and vitamins E, C, and Cod liver oil. In addition we had echinachea which we all took to boost our immune systems whenever we remembered it.
Often people showed Lilly affection by giving her sweets, popping a sugar cube into her mouth, giving her lollipops, chocolates, and sips of soda. All I could say that made any impression was that the doctor said she shouldn't have any sugar, but generally I tried to not reject someone's sincere gift. We would pocket the sweet, saying we would give it to her after lunch. Many times she'd be eating candy before I knew what was happening. I didn't want her eating so much sugar, but in India I had to accept a certain loss of control and learn not to worry.
Health concern aside, being in India, especially Benares, was the most amazing experience I've ever had, and my daughter was so happy there. The hardest thing about traveling in India was not fending off illness but saying goodbye to the wonderful people we met while we were there.