Pharmacological Preparation:

We contacted the Centers for Disease Control fax line and got a list of recommended immunizations and such for travel in the area of India. Then we went over to the Henry Ford Medical Centers overseas travel office to get the various prescriptions and shots needed. Monica got a tetanus booster, while we were both immunized for hepatitis B and something else.

There isn't an effective vaccine for malaria, but there are chemical prophylactics, so we took mefilquinone pills. We took one a week before we left, one while we were there, on Saturday, and then one a week for a month after we got back. We were also pretty careful about using repellent during the day an mosquito netting at night.

The pills made us feel tired, and our dreams were strange (apparently this is common among Peace Corps volunteers, as well). Other than a temporary dip in blood pressure, we avoided any of the more severe side effects, like hallucinations or psychotic episodes. We didn't mind missing out on those.

Beds and Toilets:

A Sri Lankan bed (at least, in a hotel) is typically a board raised off the floor, with a coconut-husk mattress about four inches thick. It's quite a bit stiffer than a typical western mattress, but you get used to it fairly quickly.

A villager might well sleep on a woven mat no more than an inch thick, not much softer than the dirt floor. Katie was used to it by the time we were there, but that was another of the many Lankan experiences we denied ourselves.

Eastern toilets, however, are not always avoidable. Western toilets do exist, but if you prefer them it's probably best to use them when you find them, rather than engage in an urgent search later.

They are essentially bowls mounted directly into the floor, often with raised, foot-sized surfaces placed conveniently to either side. All in all, they are no less sanitary than their western counterparts, but a little more skill is involved. One squats over the bowl and performs the business of elimination. Males obviously have some advantages in this, but billions of women get by with them every day.

This is probably a good time to bring up the subject of toilet paper. It is not common except in tourist areas, next to western-style toilets. You can generally only buy it in stores catering to a foreign clientele. Without going into too much detail, it's considered socially awkward to touch someone or eat with your left hand. If you want to insult a taxi driver, slap his cab with your left hand...

Tourist Pricing:

In many tourist areas of the world, there is an unofficial difference in price between tourists and residents. In Sri Lanka, this is official policy. There are some special taxes that restaurants and hotels pay when tourists eat or stay there, for example. Tourists sometimes have to pay admission to places that are free for residents. We learned to be a little careful about what the price of an item actually was before it came time to pay.

Politeness:

If you're out in public (on a bus, for example), and you take out some food or drink, it is considered rude not to offer some to others around you. They do not have to accept, and usually will not, but the offer should be made. (At least with us westerners, they would be careful not to touch their lips to a water bottle when taking a drink, so we weren't worried about making the offer on that score.)

The idea is that you shouldn't eat something in front of someone else without considering their feelings - they might be hungry or thirsty themselves, and you would make them feel worse.

Cellular Phones:

While surprising at first glance, the number of cellular telephones you will see is actually not too hard to understand. Cell-phone technology is reasonably mature and requires much less infrastructure than ground-based wires.

Customs and such: