Hello readers! As you may remember, I announced a couple of weeks ago that I am moving to Peru for a while, and I’d be keeping my travel blog at this site as well. I’ve had my first interesting travel experience, and I haven’t even left yet!
I honestly had no idea that my living-abroad would require so much preparation. After all, I’m not moving everything I own. Just myself and some clothes (and a few books). I am going to teach English, and most schools help find a furnished place for international teachers to live before they even arrive. Naively, I figured this was the most complicated part of moving abroad, and I kind of took for granted that, because I’m moving to an urban area, it would be just like moving to another city in the USA, with less access to Netflix.
By now, you probably think I’m an idiot. And I’m learning that I made a lot of really silly assumptions. But as I am learning more about what my life will be like living in South America, I am getting more excited–not less. I am excited to know what a completely different lifestyle is like. I’m excited to feel an earthquake. I’m excited to live near volcanoes. I’m excited to immerse myself in another culture and learn the language. I’m excited about alpacas. Though many comforts that I am accustomed to will still be available, there are many things I often take for granted that will become part of a daily routine I’ll have to actively think about.
What was the catalyst for much of this learning? A visit to the travel clinic here in Austin. Like I said, I’m going to an urban area, so I assumed I’d be fine and could live pretty much like I do here. The man who runs my school in Arequipa said I wouldn’t need any shots unless I plan on going to the jungle (which I totally do). But I was not up-to-date on many of my immunizations anyway, and my nurse was very thorough and informative. Rather than frighten me, she just made this move feel even more like an adventure. The appointment was eye-opening, to risk understating the experience. She gave me my shots first, because I felt incredibly anxious about them. I willingly confess that I have previously and on several occasions fainted and thrown up after receiving shots. She laid me down on a table (so smart!) and I spoke with my mom on the phone while she vaccinated me against tetanus/whooping-cough and Hepatitis A. I decided that I would get the yellow fever vaccine in Peru as needed, as well as rabies if I ever come into contact with an animal (I’m not sure I will–she made even the prospect of petting a strange dog that might lick me seem daunting). She also gave me a set of pills to inoculate me against typhoid, so over the next eight days I will be ingesting tiny amounts of the live virus for my body to kill. I’m a little nervous about that. Finally, she gave me a prescription for a supply of malaria pills that will last me one week-long trip to the Amazon.
After the shots and medication were out of the way, we went over some precautionary measures I’ll have to think about every day to keep from getting sick. For instance, don’t drink the water. She said even rinsing fruit in tap water, opening my mouth in the shower, or running my toothbrush under the tap would be enough to make me ill. Knowing that Arequipa is more developed than many places, I assumed that the water would be fine for drinking. Wrong again, apparently. However, my new roommates may tell me that it’s not as bad as the nurse made it sound. I won’t know until I get there!
Another thing I’ll have to watch for is insects. Despite the fact that the Andes form a barrier between where I’ll be and all the malaria and yellow fever of the Amazon, there are other things to watch out for. In the city where I almost took a job, there’s apparently an outbreak of dengue fever. That’s very far away from me, but it’s safe to say that I will likely be wearing bug spray at all times. I also won’t eat unpasteurized dairy, drink anything with ice in it, or eat street food.
In the US, we take for granted that there are still dangerous diseases out there. We assume that our immune systems are so developed that we will be safe from anything. Perhaps this is not a conscious thought in everyone. For me it was just never a concern. But what we truly have is some of the most advanced medical technology in the world, and access to all the vaccines we could ever need. Things that make me feel like I’m traveling back in time, like yellow fever, are actually still a really big threat to people in other parts of the world. And I’m not carrying our shiny, sterile medical advancements with me as a shield. My vulnerable human shell will be just as endangered by these diseases as everyone else who lives and visits there (which I’m sure makes my mom feel much more comfortable with me going–sorry, Mom). This appointment made me realize that, despite being in a developed area and having access to Starbucks in Arequipa, other comforts of everyday life in the USA will be very far away.
You know what? Bring it on.