I’ve always said the most dangerous thing in Pakistan is the food. But perhaps it is time to also add “the water.”

First of all, let’s be fair: it’s been a long time since I’ve gotten sick from any cause at all in this country. (Why do I tempt fate like that? why?why?) Ever since I’ve arrived, I’ve examined every stick of celery, every unwashed apple, and every dish containing mayonnaise with an eagle eye of doubt and mistrust. All the while, however, I have been blithely filling my mouth every morning and every night with something that I have recently been told is far more dangerous: untreated, unchlorinated tap water.

There is a cute little notice in one of the hotels I frequent that says “Tap water is unsuitable for drinking.” This is putting it mildly. Like those college trips you took to Mexico, you’re not supposed to drink the tap water here. Or eat lettuce that is wet from being washed in it. Or let a piece of ice float in your drink that has been made with it. I totally get it, and I have been diligent. Except for one exception: I brush my teeth with it every day.

No, I don’t swallow it. But doesn’t a teeny tiny little bit of it go down in the process? And is it possible that, perhaps especially during monsoon season when waterways flood and septic systems run haywire, a little bit of that teeny bit might have nasty things in it? This is the question I am thinking about today, when what I should be thinking about is the media outreach workshop I need to put together for next week, or how I can quickly get hold of an entire Pakistani winter wardrobe (all of a sudden it is cold here).

But today I am thinking about waterborne bacteria instead. And about clean water in general. And about how this is a problem in Pakistan and how to solve it. The other day I saw a cute ad for “Global Handwashing Day” on TV here. It had cartoons, and smiling children, and a happy little song. I’m thinking jettison all of that, and go with a picture of teeming, crawling bacteria under the microscope. Then show how soap and water kills it. Wouldn’t that do it?

A friend of mine who lived in Pakistan for three years kept a pitcher of filtered water in her bathroom next to the sink to rinse her mouth out after brushing her teeth. I always thought this was overkill. Picturing my fictional crawling bacteria advertisement has got me wondering if I was wrong.

Friends who live in Pakistan: I need to take a poll. Do you brush your teeth with tap water? Please advise. I need guidance.

 And yes, I’ll admit I used that picture of the cat because it is just so darn cute.