I thought I was so medically prepared for this trip. I had gotten my travel consultation in, I was vaccinated with more needles than you could imagine, I was taking malaria pills, had packed hundreds of bandaids, a good supply of hand sanitizer, anti-itch cream for bug bites. I had gathered ibuprofen, upset stomach medication, and dehydration salts, but I don’t think I was prepared for the food poisoning that was going to hit me.
The past five days were some of the most rewarding and challenging of the past month spent here in Vietnam. Our program traveled 4-5 hours to a small rural village by the Mekong River. Here we stayed at a local university. Quickly, I was introduced to local college students that would serve not only as mentors for the five days, but also friends.
Through this experience, I was able to engage in local organic farming practices, planting vegetables and making fertilizer with a local family. I interviewed a retired nursery school teacher and local college students about the educational system in Vietnam, and was able to help build a bio-gas convertor for a local family to help fuel stoves and other appliances. I enjoyed amazing meals with fresh fish and vegetables caught & harvested that day, laughed with my fellow peers in our mosquito net/bunk bed dorm rooms, and participated in a talent show with my friend Carter. (Comment Below: Guess the song we performed?)
I was touched by the compassion of the local students, the Vietnamese children that would play with us before they would leave for class, and the hospitality of the families that we met. It was a beautiful getaway from the busy streets of Saigon and a treat to be able to see the stars in the sky for a couple of nights. I was able to play volleyball with my new Vietnamese friends, sit under the palm trees and watch an intense soccer game, and learn more of the difficult language.
This leg of my journey taught me more than just my physical strength when it came to farming in the hot sun for hours. Thursday night, mid-dinner, I was not feeling too great. I thought it was just a passing stomach ache or a reaction to the malaria pills. While I kept trying to mentally will it away, the pain in my stomach was getting worse. By later that evening, I was fully overwhelmed with the symptoms of food poisoning. Every thirty minutes I was waking up to vomit and couldn’t keep water down. My stomach was achey and sore and I had never felt as sick as I did before.
With a visit to a local hospital I was given some medication that my body quickly rejected as I boarded the bus for the 5 hour ride back to Ho Chi Minh City. The entire bus ride back I just kept singing to the songs I was listening to and praying for healing and comfort. There was no greater accomplishment in my life than making it on this bus ride back to the city as sick as I was feeling. I am eternally grateful for my friends on this program who were the best cheerleaders ever, always offering a pat on the back or a hug to calm me down.
Now, back in the city, I am resting up after another visit to a International Health Clinic here in HCMC. I am so grateful for the compassion that my host brothers have shown me, the care of the doctors and nurses, the laughs and love that my classmates have given to me, and most importantly, the support and prayers from my parents and grandparents that does not cease to disappear even from across the world.
I knew that not every moment of my study abroad experience was going to be enjoyable. Just like life, we enter hills and valleys but I am so grateful for the people and the presence of God that can help me get out of those valleys and back onto the hills. Whatever the next trial Vietnam throws at me, I know I can handle it! Now to rest up and allow my stomach to heal so I can enjoy the AMAZING food this country has to offer.
(A tired, but much healthier than yesterday) EKH