For the most part of last week I was attending a conference on Gauge/Gravity duality in Stellenbosch, South Africa. That was the reason I was in Africa in the first place. The link to the conference site is here, and pretty soon they will have the slides and audio of the talks online.
We were in the brand new Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced study . It is new because now it has become independent. They also have a very nice building and the kitchen staff is phenomenal: they produce really good food. This is the one picture I took of the building from the inside overlooking the terrace.
One of the nicest things about this conference was the schedule. There was plenty of free time to talk with one another and discuss various things in the afternoon. I like those situations because one can get some work done and exchange ideas very fruitfully.
I also met the people from various research groups that work in string theory and related areas in South Africa. After reading many of their papers in the past, it was nice to be able to place a face with a name I know. It was also nice to know that the government of South Africa is investing in research and that the conditions for doing research are good. In general I found that the people in South Africa are extremely friendly and approachable and that the country was very different from my (biased) expectations.
I had a lot of fun in the conference and I was planning to blog about it live. Nature intervened and I became ill for a couple of days so my brain was not fully engaged.
So I will talk about that episode instead. The main reason I want to do so is to give advice for when something like this happens to the readers (on the off-chance that they might read this and actually remember it in the future).
I had some food-borne illness and I have not been able to figure out exactly what it was. I got it the day before the conference started. I was pretty miserable with various symptoms of food poisoning: diarrhea, fever, chills, headaches, nausea, etc. In such an event it is important not to dehydrate (take it from someone who has lived in the tropics for a large fraction of his life). Once you are in this situation you should also avoid foods that will further upset your stomach. For example spicy food and dairy food are usually not good options. You should also get hydration salts as recommended by the World Health Organization. Tea is better than coffee (coffee irritates the stomach). Avoid wine, especially red (red wine tannins can irritate the stomach much further). Seeing as I was in wine country, this was not something I was particularly happy about, but it is a lot better than to suffer for many days. I still managed to cheat a little about this without completely catastrophic consequences.
You should keep these precautions for a couple of days after you recover.
In my experience it is good to ask for help from the conference staff. They will be able to direct you to a pharmacy. You should explain your issues to the pharmacist and he will give you what the locals take in these situations. Bugs can behave very different in different countries and sometimes you need very strong medicine to take care of the problems. If you deteriorate, consult a doctor sooner rather than later. I was mostly recovered on the third day so this was not necessary.
I have also been in situations where I am trying to communicate with a pharmacist that does not know English and in countries where they don’t have an Alphabet I recognize. It is good to mime and to have a dictionary at hand. If you can get someone to accompany you and translate that will usually work better.
In my case the organization of the conference was extremely helpful and I am very grateful to them as a whole for helping me through this episode.
I would also like to thank all of the organization again for the wonderful experience that I had (I shall abuse my importance and use the we for everyone else at the conference). I wish all of them good luck for the future and I recommend to all the readers of this Blog that if they get a chance to go to South Africa, wether on research or for leisure, to take it. It just might change the way you think about a lot of issues.