Tales from India #2: Food Poisoning in Kochi

The Indians on the beach in Goa didn’t care who was helping them as long as the person in question was capable of helping. Their motto, most likely, was “all hands on deck” as they asked me if I could help them push their tour boat safely on shore. A moment later my hands were gripped against one of the outriggers and with the rise and fall of the Arabian Sea, and the “Push!” signal by the captain we steadily gained inch by inch. It appears that I walked along the beach just at the right time, for the same thing happened twice more.

I didn’t mind the little exercise, I actually welcomed it. I was starting to regain my strength after being bound to my hostel bed in Kochi for a whole week. For 4 ½ years I managed to travel the world without getting food poisoning, but eventually, it had to happen. And it did happen with a salad in Munnar. The menu stated it was a special salad, but little did I know how “special” it would turn out to be. From this moment forth, my stomach was no longer able to hold the little food that I ate for longer than an hour, which meant the inevitable loss of a few pounds of body weight. Severe exhaustion and crippling body aches were some of the other symptoms that would hold dominion over me for days to come.

Due to budgetary reasons, I had to leave Munnar, so with the help of painkillers, I managed to make it to the city of Kochi, more precisely the western region called Fort Kochi. However, once the effect of the painkiller vanished, so did my energy and my will to explore or do anything, to be completely honest.

Therefore I have to say that, regrettably, I have barely seen anything Kochi had to offer. Besides the coastal line and some of the old Portuguese buildings, I spent the majority of my time ailing in bed. I was exhausted enough to stay in bed, but not tired enough get some much-needed rest. Whenever sleep came over me, it was followed by delirious and nightmarish side effects. A restful respite, it never was. Continuing my travels in this state was out of the question. The mere thought of a bumpy bus or train ride was enough to make my stomach twist and turn even more.

I eventually went to the Government Hospital and for only 2 rupees I got the attention and medical advice of a nurse, and some medicine to cure my ailment. I felt a little out of place when I walked into the hospital and saw the frail Indian patients lying in beds. I assumed that they needed medical attention more urgently than this “firangi” with his incomparable stomach problems. Fortunately, there were enough nurses and doctors around to attend every one. Also, I was truly in need of professional help, since I began to show signs of dehydration. But the medicine did its job and by now I’m almost back to normal, besides the occasional stomach ache.

It’s during these times, in your weakened condition, when thoughts of doubt, concerns, and regrets creep up into your mind. Your defenses are lowered and these thoughts take full advantage of this opportunity to try to bring you off-course. Many times I was wishing that I never should’ve ordered that salad and in my worst moments, I just wanted to be back in Germany. It is an understandable feeling because you want to feel comfortable and be in a familiar space.

However, when you are thousands of miles away from your comfort zone and you are feeling unwell, then there is only one thing you can do about it – deal with it. I’m a strong advocate of self-reliance and making the best out of each situation. In most cases this means making mistakes, learning from them and soldiering on, only to look back when retelling it as a story. I always thought that the worst of times are the fabric of the greatest stories. These are not the stories about an unobstructed path, but about a path, that was filled with obstacles and adversities and the story of how you overcame them – whether it was alone or with the support of fellow human beings.

Everyone is grateful for a helping hand in a dire situation; nonetheless, you should not be overly dependent on external support, but see your mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow from. I pity the person who claims to never make any mistakes, for he is ignorant of the consequences of any of his doings or wrongdoings. Humility is the antidote against an unbridled ego, and a willingness to learn negates the effects of ignorance. This is a vital lesson for me and one I try to reiterate to myself as often as it is needed. I don’t mind getting food poisoning or getting injured, facing failure or defeat, but I do mind not taking a valuable lesson out of it.

In the end, why are we traveling if not for the search for knowledge and wisdom, for the growth derived from overcoming challenges and for the quest to do some good in this world? There is a natural curiosity within all of us that demands to be constantly satisfied. It’s like a river that shall never run dry, a flower that shall never wither, or a heart that shall never stop beating.

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