My last out of country “vacation” was a service trip to the village of Las Delicias in El Salvador. This was also my first time traveling to a third world country. To date, this trip and the memories I built with the locals and the 30 other people from my area who embarked with me has been the greatest vacation I have ever gone on. Though the memories are cherished, the trip was not without its pitfalls. There were some things I wish I knew about before my departure that were not adequately covered such as what to wear, how to react to the locals when leaving, and how to avoid the water. The unsafe drinking water situation became one my hardest realities to deal with.
“Don’t drink the water” was one rule that repeated in the back of my head during my week stay in the country. Each of our crew had his or her own water bottle to keep with him or her everywhere we went, even in the shower. In my location, the water was not purified and was unsafe for us to consume. Interestingly enough, it is perfectly fine and natural for the people of El Salvador to drink because of the immunity they have developed to the water from years of exposure. But, if an outsider drinks the water, they will most likely become ill.
Ok, so not drinking the water is an easy enough concept to adopt. If you see water, don’t drink it, it’s that simple. Well, that’s not 100% accurate. There are many situations where you use water outside of drinking where the warnings may not even register. Would you stop and think about wetting your toothbrush with a water bottle instead of the faucet? I didn’t. Good thing someone else was there to catch my mistake. Although, a few drops may not have caused a problem, I didn’t want to take the chance and glad I didn’t. Showering was another difficulty. My first night staying in San Salvador, I can remember keeping my mouth tightly shut while showering hoping that no drops would accidentally get into my mouth.
Around the village, I had the opportunity to meet other “outsiders” with the same water issues. One group from Alabama came down 20 strong and were 4 when I saw them. The other 16 members had paired off and stayed in some of the residences in a nearby town. Eating, sleeping, and drinking with the families caused many of them to get sick and force bed rest. I’m sure they were careful as we were all given the water speech in one form or another, but there are hidden dangers they may not have been aware of that could have exposed them. Rinsing off a spoon, washing their hands, eating food cooked with contaminated water, drinking coffee, etc.
Don’t let the fear of water dissuade anyone from going on a missionary type mission. I would go back in a heartbeat if I could. Just make sure you know what you’re putting into your body and the ways you use water. If you don’t have a clean water source near by or are not sure if you will or not on your travels, make sure you go properly equipped. You can purchase water purification essentials such as tablets, or water purifier straws to ensure your water will be safe.