[We resume the journeys of Matt Faherty, from India to Nepal. The literary allusion in the title of the post–if you didn’t catch it–is the Rush song, “A Passage to Bangkok.” I found one stanza of the song particularly appropriate to Matt’s somewhat pathos-inducing entry into Nepal:
Pulling into Kathmandu
Smoke rings fill the air
Perfumed by a Nepal night
The Express gets you there…
I mean “perfume” in a somewhat broad and metaphorical sense, as you’ll see from reading the post.]
Perfumed by a Nepal Night: Projectile Vomiting in Kathmandu
I arrived in Kathmandu at about 5 PM. I made it through customs and caught a taxi to my hostel, the Alobar 1000. The staff was young, mostly in their mid-20s, and not super professional. They took a while to actually set me up in my room and seemed more concerned with laughing and-or flirting with each other than customer service. At the time I didn’t mind because it fit the generally laid back manner of the bar. Now I mind.
Eventually I was led to my bed in a shared dorm room with about twenty other people. I sat on my top bunk for a few minutes before heading up to the bar-restaurant on the roof top.
From the restaurant I ordered a Chinese chicken and noodle dish plus a bottle of water. At about 7 PM, I ate my meal and talked with some other travelers for the next hour. At 8PM, I started to feel nauseous and had stomach pains. Around 8:15 PM I went to the bathroom and had bad diarrhea. I hoped that would be the end of it, but the nausea and stomach pains only worsened. I usually go to sleep around 11:30 PM or 12 AM, but at 9:30 PM I decided to go to bed because it was too painful to sit against a wall and talk to people.
For the next couple hours I tried to go to sleep but was kept awake by stomach pains. I stayed on my back since it resulted in the least pain. Whenever I tried to turn on my side, I immediately felt like I was going to throw up and nearly did so a few times.
At around 1 AM, I tasted something in my mouth which indicated that I was going to throw up. I stumbled off my top bunk and made it to the bathroom ready to puke. Nothing happened.
I waited ten minutes and then decided to go back to bed. Five steps out of the bathroom my nausea was so bad that I leaned against the wall and slumped into a seated position. I stayed there for five minutes before again trying to make it to my bed.
I fought through the nausea for about 15 steps, then climbed up my bed and tried to lay on my back. The final movement of laying down finally did me in. I sat up and vomited in my lap in numerous waves for about a minute. A few people around me woke up and tried to help. I was given a bag to catch some of the vomit, toilet paper to clean up what I couldn’t contain in front of me, water for re-hydration, and some anti-nausea pills.
After a few minutes I jumped down from my bed and went to the bathroom to change my clothes. My boxers and pants were covered in vomit, but my shirt was OK. I left the shirt on, changed into the first pants I grabbed (it turned out to be my bathing suit), and put on a jacket. At this point nearly all of my stomach pain and nausea was gone, but I felt extremely weak and dehydrated.
I staggered down a flight of stairs and through a few hallways to the front desk. Nearly every hostel I had ever stayed at keeps a staff member awake at the front desk for emergencies but Alobar 1000 was an exception. There were three staff members wrapped up in blankets, asleep around the room.
I’ve heard the food is awesome.
I nudged one guy awake and told him that I had vomited on my bed and that it needed to be cleaned up, plus I needed a place to sleep. The guy rolled over, said there were no vacancies, and promptly went back to sleep. I woke him up again and said the same thing. He fell asleep again. I woke him up again and said the same thing. He told me to go to the rooftop restaurant and sleep on the floor (which was padded and people usually sat on while they were eating, so it’s not uncomfortable). Then he fell back asleep. I had to wake him up to more times to figure out where I could get a spare blanket until he pointed me to a sleeping bag.
I staggered up four stories to the rooftop restaurant and slept on the floor in the dining area. It was not an enclosed space, so it was quite cold, but I managed to get somewhat warm between the sleeping bag and my jacket. To the best of my recollection, I fell asleep around 2:30.
I was awakened at 6:30 AM by some cleaning ladies. After trying to go back to sleep for a few minutes, I walked down four stories to the front desk to see if they had responded anyway to my illness.
The guy I had nudged awake was sitting at the front desk with two other employees. At first he didn’t recognize me, but then I reminded him about last night. He asked me if I had cleaned up the vomit. That is, he wanted to know if after being food poisoned by this hostel, and being barely able to stand after profusely vomiting, I had staggered back to my room at 1:30 AM, climbed up to my top bunk, rolled up my vomit-soaked blanket and sheets, and put them… I don’t know where, he never told me. I told him that I had not cleaned it up.
He replied that if the blanket, sheet, or bed were damaged, I would have to pay for it.
My anger was only abated because I still felt completely exhausted and dehydrated. I told him that I would not be paying for damages caused by being poisoned by this hostel. What followed was a five minute long series of evasions and dodges by which the guy did everything he could to deflect blame from the hostel.
First he asked if I was sick from my recent flight. I fly dozens of times per year, including eight times in the last three weeks, and I have never gotten sick from it. Plus I didn’t feel sick until well after I had left the plane.
Second, he suggested that I had become sick during my previous travels. I had been through Bangladesh and northern India over the past three weeks, and I had never gotten anything worse than a cold which ended a week ago. I took antibiotics daily. Then I arrive in Nepal and a few hours later I get violently ill.
Third, he suggested that it was something else I ate that day. I had eaten a lentil soup doha at 10 AM, which is pretty much the most mild food in the world. I had eaten some chicken and rice on the airplane. When I arrived at Nepal I felt perfectly fine, even well rested. Then an hour after eating at the hostel I began to feel sick.
Fourth, he suggested that I was drunk. I had no alcohol that night, nor the night before, nor any night before for two weeks, when I had consumed a single beer in Calcutta.
Fifth, he suggested that I got sick from consuming food elsewhere in Nepal. I consumed nothing in Nepal outside of the hostel. The only time I had spent outside of the hostel was arriving at the airport, the taxi ride, and a five minute walk to an ATM.
Sixth, he threw his hands up and said we can never really know where these things come from and the hostel can’t be held responsible. All of the facts presented and the distinct taste of Chinese chicken noodles in my mouth as I vomited beg to differ.*
I can understand if someone has read up to this point and thought the hostel employee sounded reasonable. But here’s the rub: I was not the only person to get sick. Someone else had thrown up a few hours before me. That morning I spoke to two girls who had been staying at the hostel for more than a week and they reported that people were constantly getting sick after eating at the rooftop restaurant. They were so angry with the hostel that they offered to go with me to the front desk to confront the employees directly.
My schedule has been completely fucked up by this. I was planning on getting on a bus this morning to go to the farm to begin working, but now I felt awful and I had vomit all over some clothes (including my most worn pants). I asked the employee how long it would take to wash my clothes and he said it wouldn’t be ready until that night at earliest, but likely next morning. So I could either carry my backpack and vomit-filled clothes on two long bus rides to the farm and hope I recovered along the way way enough to be able to work tomorrow, or I could wait another day in Kathmandu to leave.
Because the hostel had poisoned me and messed up my schedule, I felt entitled to compensation. I considered my position and made the front desk employee an option. I asked to stay at the hostel another night for free, but I would sleep in a sleeping bag in the hotel restaurant so that I didn’t take up a bed and cost them money. Meanwhile, I would pay the 60 cents to clean my clothes. So I was basically asking them to take responsibility and compensate me at pretty much no cost.
I ended up paying for the night I stayed and leaving a few hours later for another hotel. There isn’t much I can do now except write the worst review they have ever or will ever receive on Hostelworld.com and perhaps try to get a refund via Hostelworld.
Irfan: You can read my CO 350 students’ comments on Matt’s experience here. I used his post as a teaching tool in a unit of my applied ethics course on money.
Matt wrote the preceding post more than week ago. He’s much better now.
*Irfan: I’m very grateful to Matt to not having spared us any of the forensic-physiological details involved here, so that we can all think more carefully about the epidemiological and legal-liability issues raised by his experience.
Postscript, March 31, 2015 (by Irfan): I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that yet another secular-minded blogger has been hacked to death in Dhaka. (This comes about a month after a previous attack, mentioned in one of Matt’s earlier posts.) One machete attack is bad. Two is copycatting. Three, I suppose, would be a trend.
Meanwhile, a teenager in Singapore, Amos Yee, has been arrested for criticizing Lee Kuan Yew, the country’s authoritarian “founding father” (who deserved everything that Amos Yee dishes out in the video and more). Lee Kuan Yew was a dictator, just as Yee says. But he didn’t fool everyone.
I actually found Yee’s video exceptionally impressive, especially for a teenager. Props, Amos. You should be blogging for PoT. To close with Amos’s words:
There ya go, Lee Kuan Yew, an overrated, overglorified person, a dictator, and exceptionally Machiavellian in nature. Good riddance, Lee Kuan Yew. I neither hope [that you rest in peace] and neither will you rest in peace.
Postscript, April 1, 2015 (Irfan): Matt sends along this item, from “the missed disaster list” for his trip. As I’ve said elsewhere, so far he’s just narrowly missed a machete hacking, a bombing, a ferry accident, a train accident, and arrest for offensive blogging. We can now add a fatal rhinoceros attack to the list. I suppose the rhino in question was not one in name only.
Postscript, April 8, 2015 (Irfan): Matt sends along the following update:
You are not going to believe this. My credit card just got charged $550 by Alobar 1000. They are actually doing it. They are charging me for damages caused by them poisoning me. Someone may have to restrain me when I return to Kathmandu.
That strikes me as a straightforward case of fraud. I’d report it as a disputed charge to the credit card company and have them hash it out with Alobar 1000. A cautionary tale.
Anyway, if nothing else, this will be an interesting case study in non-governmental adjudication of private commercial disputes. Stay tuned!