The Silver Lining to Salmonella

One of the biggest warnings to tourists in Cusco is to be extremely careful about what we are eating.  The laundry list of foods to avoid and recommendations to heed is long, but easy to follow! However, despite our best efforts, the food and water here often take their toll on tourists.  Since my first week in Cusco, many people in my program have fallen ill from water or food-borne infections.  Luckily, since it is so common, doctors are well-equipped to handle these kinds of illnesses and most people were back in action within 3 days.  In my second week here I also came down with a food-related sickness, but unfortunately mine chose to stay around for 3 weeks rather than 3 days.  Three weeks later, I am finally fully back on my feet after a bit of a bumpy ride involving two hospital stays.   Even though it was an unexpected, and somewhat undesirable, arena for language acquisition, I definitely learned a lot along the way.

This whole process made me even more thankful for my host family, which I did not think was possible.  They recognized that this was a hard obstacle to overcome, especially being 4,000 miles away from my family.  Without my host family this ordeal would have been 10 times more challenging, but despite the challenges I faced, I realized how genuine and meaningful the connections I was forming with people were.  For example, my host father brought me my toothbrush and a change of clothes on my second day in the hospital.  Luckily for me, he also managed to smuggle in a couple tamales so that we could eat breakfast together before he went to work (much to the chagrin of my doctor who had some choice words for me when he found out about the contraband tamales).  Without me even saying anything, my host father recognized how stressful it had been for me to spend the night in the clinic by myself.  It sounds silly, but that simple tamale breakfast made everything seem more manageable and temporary.

Thumbs up for contraband tamales

I feel very lucky to have been placed with my host family.  They are some of the most generous, selfless people I have ever met and I couldn’t have made it through this without them.  Also, I have to admit I feel pretty accomplished having overcome this hiccup.  I didn’t let feeling sick stop me from experiencing all Cusco has to offer (except some of the more adventurous foods).  At the height of it all I managed to explore Machu Picchu and hike Lake Humantay, a notoriously difficult hike due to the altitude and incline.  Being sick for so long was tough, but it really pushed me to learn more, think positive, and be resilient.

Despite the stresses of this ordeal, my takeaway is primarily positive! In the end, I learned some really important vocabulary that I probably wouldn’t have under other circumstances.  Now I’m equipped with an arsenal of terminology regarding medical and health issues.  My time in the different clinics made me feel much more confident interacting with professionals and speaking for myself in stressful situations.  I was thrown in head first and forced to learn how to communicate effectively and now I know that going forward, I will be well prepared to communicate for myself or others in similar situations.  Lastly, now it is officially confirmed that I must return to Cusco at some point!  I spent too much time restricted to a diet of white rice and Pedialyte.  There are a lot of foods I still want to try, and not enough time left to try them all.  I guess this is the universe’s way of helping force my hand to come back to this great city!