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Thanks for Sharing…Um NO.

As soon as the guy started sneezing, I had a nasty feeling that everyone in economy class was going to get whatever he had. He didn’t cover his mouth, so his infected droplets went flying willynilly in all directions in the recycled air. It would only be a matter of time. Thanks, asshole. On one hand I feel for him that he’s sick. On the other, how incredibly irresponsible to share it with that many people when face masks are ubiquitous in the Asian culture for this very reason.

I find it interesting that a great many Asians wear face masks. This guy didn’t, and sure enough, his ugly cold gestated quickly. I had just gone out into the Borneo forest to look for organgutans and by the time we got back, I was coughing and sneezing. In a matter of minutes, I was flat on my back with a migraine, my throat so sore I could neither swallow nor speak. Still can’t.

Pardon my French, but I didn’t spend a small fortune to come to Borneo to be infected courtesy of your selfish fucking inconsideration of not only me but an entire cabin full of people, including very young children.

A Contained Silver Bullet

Anyone who travels enough and has been stuck next to a very sick child who practices Aida arias for the entire duration of an 18-hour flight understands what it’s like to be exposed to germs you’d rather not host. I’m not without humor. If we choose to travel, this is one of the potential dangers. A few years ago, ebola was one of those epidemics that spread largely because of cultural burial practices throughout Western Africa, and the close proximity of those living in small houses or villages. Infection was inevitable. By touching, handling and being in close contact with infected folks a great many more became carriers, and for the most part, died as a result. For those of us who travelled during that time, we weren’t allowed on board if we exhibited any kind if cold or flu like symptom. In its own way, it’s very much the same as how we spread verbal infectious diseases on line.

We in the Western world were terrified that the infection would land here. It did and we contained it. However the simple truth is that the act of breathing, sitting next to someone and taking in their expelled air, can expose us to a whole host of nasties. Our immune systems are beautifully designed to handle that onslaught, but not always. When we fly, that same air gets circulated, and by the time it may get cleaned up, and put back out in to the cabin, we’ve already breathed in infectious agents.

Which is why I slept from 1 pm to 11pm today. And another eight hours. I can’t swallow, and my head is a blast zone. I can’t even sip water. I am dizzy when I stand up, and I can’t get more than about fifty feet from the front of my hotel room.

There’s Gut Sick and Other Sick

Once in Rwanda, my guide and I stopped at a small store and picked up some yogurt. It was room temperature (refrigeration is a very rare thing in those villages) and I kept the bag for several days. I tried a carton, and it exploded upon opening, sending foul smelling green goo all over the inside of otherwise pristine Land Rover. My guide wasn’t amused. That kind of thing, along with eating maggots (my hand is up) ants (yep that too) and all kinds of insects in various parts of the world have, on occasion, given me reason to run behind trees, bushes, rocks and anything large enough to allow me some privacy. But I chose that. Paying the price for experimentation is part of the fun of travel.

Getting sick because some jerkoff doesn’t possess the courtesy to cover his mouth when he sneezes is another thing entirely. According to, a cough or sneeze can send nasty droplets from nine to 26 feet out, and they hang suspended in the air for some ten minutes. In the carefully controlled and circulated air of an airplane, we can thank Mr. Carrier for his generosity. Many of us are probably now as sick as I am.

Masks as a Way of Life

A few years back I traveled to Vietnam for a month. While in Saigon, I was trapped inside my cockroach motel for several days because the pall that lies over the city from millions of motorbikes was so bad that it burned my eyes and made me nauseous. M0st everyone there wears a mask. Same for Hanoi. I never saw the sights, never got to a museum, never walked farther than a corner store. It took three hours by van to get out from under the pollution and into the open country where you could enjoy the rice paddies and gorgeous countryside. That part of Vietnam is unbelievably beautiful.

This is part of the wholesale migration to smaller towns and pristine places where trees haven’t been sacrificed to the retail gods, or the highway gods, or the housing gods. Trees- and all plants as well as the ocean- are the world’s natural air purifiers. There are few places where the air is richer than in a deep forest. Again, the same is true online. In much the same way I am always searching for a safe space to converse, grow, be challenged, share ideas, and evolve. Yet someone “diseased” with righteousness and hate inevitably shows up to sneeze on someone’s work. I don’t much care about their reasons, although I can often empathize. They are lethal just the same.

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Speaking of Forests

Before I succumbed to whatever currently ails me, my guide loaded me into a small motorboat which wended through fascinating palms which tinted the water iron-red. The skies were clear as we made our way towards a preserve where we hoped to see an orangutan, if we were very very lucky. In this part of the world they are losing the fight for habitat, which is the same for the African giraffe, whose sad entry on the endangered species list breaks my heart as much as for these great orange apes.

We made our way into the loamy, steamy forest, walking softly and watching overhead. Almost immediately a huge male, some 200 lbs or more, began making the distinct kissing sounds that meant for us to go away. We spotted him in the high trees, and watched intently as he made his graceful, long-armed way towards a more private place. Like my friend on the plane, we carry our own diseases for these creatures, such as our appetite for products made of palm oil (please see, which may well make sightings like this only available in zoos in just a few generations.

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The three hours we spent exploring, sweating profusely and investigating huge ants, foot-long millipedes and watching macaques led us to see one more female. She was in a late pregnancy, and lolled contentedly on a branch far above. Safe from whatever we might be carrying, she carried her own precious burden. One more, hopefully to survive the human onslaught. This is protected territory. There isn’t enough of it left.

My experience with the sneezing man who put a dent in my day- and possibly a few more- made me consider further the ways we infect each other as a species. It’s not just a matter of germs, which can be a temporary inconvenience or a death sentence (depending on your germs).We also infect each other with hate, greed, blame, and a hundred hundred other just as dangerous diseases, especially online. What we spread verbally matters.

About What We Spread

Our ability to be gracious online, to accept criticism or alternative suggestions, to share stories that inspire, to educate and motivate- on Medium and elsewhere- have everything to do with making the world livable or unlivable. If you question this, then simply look at the cost of cyber bullying: according to, some 4400 people die each year- and most sadly, our kids — when we infect them with our viciousness. In most instances, we would consider this a serious disease. But as with the gun debate, there is a great deal riding on NOT researching this as a national health hazard. When a few folks die from Listeria or ecoli, it’s national news. Hmm. Wonder why this isn’t? I’m just asking here.

As someone fairly new to Medium, I’ve already had my share of ugly trolling. Being a journalist, and being human as well, there are times I make a mistake. I gladly fix them when someone is kind enough to show me where I’m wrong. That’s a valuable gift, and I’m highly motivated to fix the problem as well as genuinely grateful for the chance to fix the error. Others are no better than carriers of ebola. It’s an opportunity to flail others publicly, do damage and somehow make them feel righteous. Just as evil a disease as any held ever so carefully in the government stores of biological warfare.

Being abused on line makes us ill unless we develop immunity to it. It spikes our blood pressure, hurts the heart, and sometimes we cascade the anger right down to the family cat. Whether you are walking a forest or working a factual article you and I are susceptible to carriers. We may be one ourselves. In that case, I might suggest a germ mask. Keep the disease to yourself. Offer up ideas kindly and with respect. You don’t have to like or agree with anyone’s stories, their take or their factual sources. I may be in my mid-sixties, and have a lot more experience than some, but that doesn’t make me right. What it does make me is willing to consider other viewpoints- when offered with respect. We have a small world to protect that is getting more unruly by the day. As thoughtful fellow travelers, what better antidote to ugliness than an intent to help and serve rather than punish and abuse.

Not only does there need to be room for all our living creatures including us, there needs to also be room for a variety of thought. Otherwise this makes the commenter little more than a snake in the grass who bites anything that threatens its territory. We have enough of that already.

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