This is one of the best bathroom signs I’ve ever seen:


It was pinned to the door of a bathroom stall in a hostel in Barranco, Lima and my first confrontation with the wide-spread practice: anything biological goes in the loo, everything else in the trashcan.

I think this sign provides excellent advice – in a bathroom or elsewhere. Because, as I found out a few weeks later, incidents aren’t limited to bathroom facilities. After eating what turned out to be dubious chicken, it popped back up with little warning while I was strolling along the Plaza de Armas in Cuzco.

Food poisoning makes us feel miserable, no question. But while we’re at it, we might as well make the best of a bad situation.

Here’s what we did. In Lima, I was sharing an apartment with four other people from four continents. We were all dealing with the occasional stomach bug. At one point, two of us were feeling really awful, so we decided to do the only thing that made sense to us at the time: have fun with it! So, we founded The Couch Club. Admission requirements: bacteria and parasites. Membership meant having a license to veg…guilt-free! Pretty nifty comfort joy!

sick overseas sign

There is a good side to feeling crappy…but you have to want to see it. When you’re sick half way around the world, it brings people closer and opens up new ways to relate to one another:

  • A shift in perspective and priorities takes place and makes something OK that would not be socially acceptable in other contexts: discussing the details of food poisoning and other stomach bugs while eating. Because everyone’s dealing with some degree of intestinal discomfort, it becomes a socially acceptable topic during dinner conversations: consistency, color and frequency as well as location (North or South) of our own biological production is verbally examined. In a way, we connect over our shared misery.
  • It helps us become more pragmatic. Whether on the Plaza de Armas or the bathroom stall: better out than in!
  • It puts us in touch with our own humanity. Not only does it just take a tiny little thing for us to feel awful, but depending on where we are, we might also have to rely on the kindness of strangers to feel better. It is a lesson in humility and gratitude.