Thursday, April 19, 2012

What's Brown and Sticky?... a stick.

Dang. Two posts in a week, then no post for over two months. That reminds me of a fun little number fact about my bowel movements…. My first 16 days in this country I only pooped 2 times. Then, at some terrible point in October, I pooped 16 times in 2 days. True Story.

Hrm… Since this blog entry has already taken a stinky turn, I’ll follow suite. Time for a story I’ve only recently managed to suppress… it was traumatizing to say the least.

A group including myself and five other volunteers headed to a small village in the hills of Southwest Uganda to learn about VSLAs, Village Savings and Loans Associations. It’s a simple way of helping people in a community save their money and additionally provides a financial safety net.  We’d been told to dress professionally and in a country where ankle lengths skirts are the norm, I was wearing a long dress, thin sweater-cover and nice dress sandals. My suspicions of how the evening was going to go began when our land rover got stuck in the mud on the way up the hill. Our driver promptly turned on the four wheel drive and floored the gas pedal. After a few seconds of non-forward motion fishtailing and the girls all holding hands and repenting of their sins, we finally skidded out of the rut and continued up the hill to the town center.  The vehicle came to a stop in a cluster of trees and the driver motioned, telling us we had reached our destination. Looking around at no people or building in plain sight our skeptical faces told the driver he needed to point us in the right direction. We followed a muddy path through the trees and came to a steep inclined hill. Allow me to pause and paint a picture of exactly what level of “muddy and inclined” I am talking about;

 Go to your nearest Sam’s Club and purchase every container of premixed and boxed chocolate pudding you can find.  Now allow the pudding to sit in your garage, until is it thick and mushy. Next, packing as many buckets of pudding as you can into your vehicle, go to your nearest playground with a 100 foot slide. Begin to dump the pudding on the slide until all of the plastic/metal is hidden. NOW GO TO THE BASE OF THE SLIDE INYOUR LOVELY DRESS SANDALS AND CLIMB THAT BAD BOY.

Climbing that hill was a scene I will never forget.

It only took three brave steps for me to mudslide back four. Hooooray, off to a great start. At this point I began looking for stones in the mud to hoist me along, stray branches to tug me along, or maybe unsuspecting people to drag me along. But as I looked into the eyes of the lovable Josephine climbing along with me, I saw the same desperation and fear.  Taking solace in our joint nightmare we smiled and accepted the inevitable; we were going to have to crawl up this hill in our dashing outfits. With my feet shoulder width apart on the left side of the path, Joey and I arched across and put our hands on the right side of the path. In this position we began to reverse-crabwalk shimmy up the current bane of our existence. Half way up the hill, Coutious, the Peace Corps staff member guiding us, took the chance to remind us that she was both behind us AND newly pregnant, so yeah… no pressure on not falling and crushing her unborn child. Of course Coutious, having grown up in the hills of Southwest Uganda, was having no problem with the slope. Trick looked like she was going up a damned escalator.

When we finally reached the top, the awaiting group of Ugandans made no attempt to hide their laughter as they offered us a bucket of water to clean ourselves up. We finished introductions and headed inside the small office to learn how they operated their VSLA program. With about 25 people and 7 places to sit, visitors were offered the few available seats while everyone else filed in and sat on the ground. While we waited for the latecomers to join, one of the women sitting on the ground took the opportunity to tell us “You know, here the Ugandan women sit on the ground and the men get the chairs”, her voice with an air of suggestion. I wanted to tell her this wasn’t new information to me, nor was it even the first or second time someone wanted me to give up my seat to a man, but instead I kept my cool and politely smiled.

That’s a lie.

Before I knew what my mouth was thinking I said “Good thing I’m American” in a snappy retort. It wasn’t right, I shouldn’t have said it, kids: don’t do what I do.

After a prayer, approval of the minutes, reintroduction, review of last week’s minutes, and a bunch of other official bullshit that precedes all Ugandan meetings, we finally began. And about 3 minutes into the meetings, my stomach gave a lurch. Not just any lurch, THE lurch. The diabolical lurch of a stomach that knows it is about to blow your colon to hell. My eyes going wide in recognition of my immediate stinky future, I started surveying the room for the quickest zig-zag path through the floor sitters to safety. A few minutes later I was outside circling the dirt house for any form of toilet with 3 small children following me, the largest of the small children with a baby in her arms. I turned to the children and asked where the bathroom was. The bewildered look in their eyes mixed with the excitement of a pale face actually talking to them let me know that they didn’t speak English. Using my minimal Runyankore (the local language) I said “toilet nkahi?!” or “The toilet is where?.” In unison the kids pointed to a tilted mud hut. Well… hut isn’t an appropriate word. I’m not sure what to call it. Hut implies there are at least four walls. That did not apply here. From sticks and mud, the people seemed to have built a slanted three walled and straw roof situation over a giant hole in the ground.

 I see you’ve noticed I said three walls, surely the missing wall is the wall that faces away from everything, towards the edge of the hill overlooking all the beauty Uganda has to offer? Wrong. The missing wall is facing, neigh, TOUCHING the short dirt path from the house/office. Taking the view in with my eyes I have no choice but to release another sarcastic… Hooooray.

I walked towards the hut to inspect while clenching my stomach because it’s released another lurch, the children still following closely at my muddy heels.  I can tell I need to think fast. I identify my problems and try to sort them one at a time. First… I need toilet paper. I laugh at myself, the audacity that I would think toilet paper is even an option. So yeah… scratch that, I need anything to wipe my ass with. I begin stomping through the waist high bushes looking for my answer. I’ll be damned, it’s all tiny weeds with tiny leaves or giant banana leaves out of my reach.  Touche forest gods. Touche. I go in further searching and finally catching a break, happening upon the nicest little bush with palm sized soft leaves. I pluck as many as I can stuff in my sports bra and get the hell out of the bush before Africa eats me. Btw, the children are still on my heels.

This brings me to problem number two. Momma needs her privacy and the brats need to go. Back and standing next to my poop “hut”, I begin waving my arms in the international “go away” motion. I knew it would accomplish nothing, but hey, worth a try.  Resorting to puppy tactics, I pick up rocks and throw them while shouting “Fetch!” Again, nice try. Finally with some success I wave my arms like and shout scary monster noises. The children run laughing and screaming, but not out of sight. Juuuuust far enough to make it only a little awkward.

Looking over at my hut I take a deep breath. It’s time.  I can do this. I think I can do this. I probably can’t do this…

I hike up my dress, pull my underwear down to my knees, squat over the joke of a 4inch by 4inch hole like they taught us, and do the damned thing. In a move I like to call the upside-down volcano, I emptied my system like a burst of lava.  I can hear the children talking/ laughing the whole time, so every few seconds I make sure to shout again for them to STAY AWAY. Then, I use my surprisingly soft leaves (certainly better than the toilet paper in the residence halls at UF, no offense guys) to clean myself up and stand up to compose myself. All the while I’m stepping very carefully because I can’t tell if the floor is dirt or cement, and I’ve already heard horror stories of the floor caving on other volunteers and being stuck in the bottom of a shit-pit for hours before help comes. That is not something one simply recovers from. That shit sticks with you forever, literally. 

Like all naturally curios people I look behind me to scope the situation.

Jesus Christ.

I was about 6 inches off. Not a drop of it made it into the hole. I just coated their floor like a fool. I really am the white devil.

Panicking that I was already lucky the children stayed away this long, I grab the remainder of the bra leaves and extra carefully scrape my own fecal matter into the pit latrine hole. Might I reiterate… Hooooray.

I exited the hut in a bubble of my own shame and gave the children a sarcastic “I fucking love this place” smile.  As I go to return to the meeting I realize my bubble of shame and self loathing has grown too big for me to enter the doorway. Knowing when to call it quits, I find a nice patch of grass where I can sit and hold my stomach for the remainder of the session.  I use this time to collect a few neat looking white pebbles scattered on the ground around me, reminding myself it’s the little things that count, and at least I got a few cool rocks from the experience.  As if on cue, one of the dirtier children passes by me eating what I now know is “Jackfruit” and spits a seed on the ground. A familiar looking seed… a neat looking white seed.  As recognition dawns on me, I dump my seed collection on the ground and having given up on the day, begin planning how the hell I’m going to get down that hill.

So there you have it another one of my classic “why me?” stories. =)

If I ever have children in the future and they dare complain about scooping the  cat litter box, I’m going to take away the pooper scooper, hand them some leaves and tell them they better thank their lucky stars it isn’t their own shit. Hooooray