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Practical Concerns

My son has been terribly sick… again. So I decided to take this opportunity to talk about practical health concerns in Mexico.

Americans are known for being very, shall we say, particular about what we eat, where we sleep and the risks we are willing to take. In the School for Foreign Students here in Xalapa, Americans are often a cause for frustration. Sometimes they refuse to put the toilet paper in the wastebasket instead of the toilet. Sometimes they demand immediate medical attention for bug bites. For Mexicans, this is understandably exasperating as these are all things that are part of daily life down here. For Americans, it just takes someone who knows the ropes to get them out of the beginner’s crisis.

I love to do exactly what a foreigner should never do: eat tacos at street stands. They are delicious and authentic, yet they’ve also given me Typhoid Fever. And as far as the water goes, I brush my teeth with it and cook pasta in it and haven’t had a problem. I know people, though, who have gotten really sick just by rinsing their mouths out with tap water. It just depends on the individual.

The other day I decided to buy chicken breast. It seems to be a simple enough operation. There are several people near our home who sell it. At one woman’s stall, I’ve seen the chicken laid out on the sidewalk next to bird poop and chewed gum. I kept on walking. At the next stall, a young couple sat beneath a beach umbrella and kept the chicken covered by a clean cloth. One person handled the money and the other person handled the food. It would have been an ideal place but they were already sold out. So I went to the last stand. Here was a man swatting wasps from his chicken parts. I’ve seen a lot of people buy from him so I imagined he was a safe option.

I started to doubt my decision when I saw how he handled money, his cell phone, ran his hands through his hair and then handled the chicken. I thought maybe I was just being a picky American. So I bought the chicken breast, took it home and washed it before cooking it. We all ate lunch and later on that evening, my baby started throwing up. No one else got sick. I can’t be sure that it was the chicken but I don’t think I’ll be buying from him again. It all comes down to finding the fine line between doing what the locals do and being aware of your own sensibilities.