It was thanksgiving and I was celebrating with a group of college friends in a small town called Talent in southern Oregon. As we cleaned up the dishes a member of our party told me, “The number one cause of diarrhea is dishes that aren’t thoroughly rinsed.” I redoubled my rinsing vigour, and stashed that piece of knowledge under the ‘things to think about when rinsing / how to avoid diarrhea’ tab of my brain where it lay unquestioned until the following summer. I was travelling in Scotland, volunteering on organic farms and living with families everywhere from islands in the Hebrides, to cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh. Of all the things I learned that summer, my most cherished bit of cultural insight was the realization that other people have a very different relationship to rinsing dishes than I do. You see, while many people I met did rinse the soap bubbles off of dinner plates and cutlery, it was equally likely that I would wash up the kitchen with folks who didn’t.
I remember the first time I saw it happen. A sparkling clean plate, white and steaming, was set vertically on the draining board with bubbles cascading down until, to my amazement, all of the bubbles had fallen off. I tried to give it back to my kitchen cohort saying, “You forgot to rinse this one.”
“Rinse it?,” He frowned, “What do you mean? Take the bubbles off?” It was a chilling moment. I felt my insides turn, certain that I would be up several times in the night visiting the toilet. I mean, I had just eaten off of this family’s kitchenware!
Embarrassed about my fear of diarrhea, I quizzed him about the soapy flavor instead, “Doesn’t everything just taste of soap?” He reminded me that I had just eaten there, and turned the question back to me. And, no, I had to admit – nothing had tasted of soap. And, furthermore, nothing went amiss with my insides. Nor did it ever in that long summer of mixed rinsing.
I believe that the most powerful learning is what you learn through personal experience. I believe that the lessons you learn outside of academia, outside of family lore, and outside the idol chitchat of friends standing side by side washing dishes on a random Thanksgiving are more life changing, stay with you longer and ultimately have a more profound effect on who you are.
There is so much nonsense thrown around in every setting, in every conversation that it can take a lifetime of real human experiences to unlearn it all. I think of my brother who, as a child, admired the beauty of a black singer on the television, and of my grandfather, whose reply was simply, “Wrong color.” I think of marketing campaigns that remind us every spring and fall that the clothes we wore last year simply won’t do this season. And I think of a time when I rinsed dishes as if my health depended on it.
I believe her color was perfect, that your cloths are just fine, and that leaving bubbles on your dishes will not cause diarrhea. But I also believe that you cannot possibly take it from me. You have to learn it for yourself.
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