And now for something completely different: My top ten worst toilet experiences
As soon as this week’s weekly writing challenge arrived in my inbox I started dreaming about what I could write about. Challenged “to step outside your blogging box and try something totally different,” I decided to go with a Top 10 list, a series that I’d like to turn into a regular feature here on my blog.
And so, without further ado: My top ten worst toilet experiences (in no particular order)
- 1995. The Valley of a Thousand Hills, South Africa. I was working with Outward Bound South Africa in Kwa-Zulu Natal. We were volunteering in a small village – doing maintenance at the local school. The concrete-floor long drop lavatories, once neat and sanitary, had seen many feet and better days. I stayed well clear of them, but one of my colleagues decided to risk using one. On exiting, the ground around the toilet gave way, and my colleague slid into the hole. Someone rescued him. It was not I.
Valley of 1000 Hills
- 1999. “Silicon Valley”. Mongolia. I was in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, for three months helping out in a church. Amongst other things, I was doing handiwork – tiling floors, helping with the plumbing and fixing a toilet, which was particularly difficult to repair, in the pastor’s apartment. The sole solution was silicon sealant – moulded into makeshift washers, and smeared copiously wherever a leak sprung – leading us to dub the Water Closet “Silicon Valley.” Another strange characteristic was that the toilet would often choose to flush scalding hot water. (I’m not making this up, I assure you!) Near the end of my stay I suffered from five days of diarrhea brought on by a dodgy shot of distilled mare’s-milk vodka. (Yes, you read that correctly – vodka made from the milk of mares, which are said to be very difficult to milk!) I wore the carpet bare travelling between my bedroom and Silicon Valley. Many a minute I prayed for God to simply rapture me from the humid little torture chamber … (Un)fortunately he didn’t.
- 2009. Madagascar. The Midgley family’s toilet. The toilet at the Midgley family’s home mostly worked fine, apart from when it became blocked, and we were advised by the plumber and house-help to stop disposing of toilet paper in the bowl. (Seriously?!?) The solution – a small bin alongside. It just didn’t come naturally to me, I must say, to dispose of TP in the bin … But worse than that was its loose seat. More than once I came within a whisker of a cropper, as the slightest weight shift would send the seat shooting out at an angle. You try wiping without moving. I challenge you!
- 2010. Round hole. Manambolo River area. Madagascar. Actually, the hole-in-the-ground toilet, hidden in the long grass at our Manambolo River base in eastern Madagascar wasn’t at all bad (we even flew in a proper toilet seat after our first few visits to the area) that was, until we discovered that little biting/stinging flies had sought refuge in the cool shade of our primitive “throne”. I leave the rest to your imagination …
Small hole in hard ground. Manambolo River area, Madagascar
- 1990. A mountain-top. South Africa-Botswana border. I was in a mobile communications unit in the South African Airforce, stationed on a mountain-top in the north-west of the country for a month. We had plenty of time to dig in, and even fashioned ourselves a decent toilet – using rocks to make a seat. One morning, one of my colleagues came screaming (literally) back to our campsite, panic-stricken, with a tale of how a snake had slithered by as he was relieving himself. The result: we immediately radioed for a chopper to fly in Imodium (anti-diarrheal medication), giving us a few toilet-free days to pluck up the courage to go again.
- 2002. Mozambique-Zimbabwe border post. After crossing through border posts from South Africa all the way north as far as Kenya, I soon learnt never to try to go to the bathroom at the border itself. I tried it once – on a trip into Mozambique from Zimbabwe. No paper. A leaking bowl. Fluid flowing freely across the floor and out the door. No water in the cistern. Stained, cracked porcelain. A stench forever etched into my memory …
- 1999. Long drop. Mongolia. The toilet, at our church in the capital city slum known as “Darkness”, was more a medium-drop than a long drop. With rickety planks on which to balance (and only a small hole hacked into their centre) using the toilet was a harrowing experience. Every time I was forced to frequent the little shed I half-expected the floor to dissolve under my weight. Winter was fine, because everything froze instantly, but spring brought the thaw. And with it flies. And the gnawing fear …
- 2004. Long drop. 67Ha, Antananarivo, Madagascar. We had crossed rancid waterways on foot to get to the spartan wooden church at the heart of 67Ha – the sprawling, ramshackle underbelly of Madagascar’s capital city. I hadn’t been thinking clearly that morning, consuming way too much coffee, considering the long day of preaching in three churches ahead of me. Mid-morning, with my bladder burning, I realised I would have to make use of the church’s rickety long drop, which was raised up on stilts. I climbed the shaky ladder, positioned myself over the way-too-tiny hole in the floor, dizzily held my breath and forced myself not to look down towards the rising pong. Somehow I survived … (In retrospect, it bore a remarkable resemblance to the long drop in Slumdog Millionaire.) Fortunately, by the time the blackened rice-paddie fish, which they served us for lunch, had decided to declare full-scale guerilla warfare on my stomach I was safely back at the hotel … And thus came about number 9 on my list, about which I will not elaborate.
- (See above point)
Digging in Mozambique
- And finally: 2003. Square hole. Zambezia province. Mozambique. Our church ministry team was laagered under a large shady tree on the banks of the Zambezi river in Mozambique. Villages hemmed us in, but our temporary home was reasonably private, surrounded by thatched walls. Once again, we had dug an adequately sized latrine in the far corner of our campsite, and constructed a floor from branches and clay. It was as good as any I had dug before. But then it rained. And clay does not do well in the rain … Nor does hastily tied-together thatch. Using a long drop with no seat is challenging. Even more challenging is the sight of several pairs of villagers’ eyes peering back at one through holey grass walls while squatting precariously on greasy clay.
What a pity I don’t have place for the story of the exploding long drop from a missionary trip to Mozambique in 2008. But that would have made a Top 11 list, which just doesn’t sound right. Another time, perhaps. And you, do you have any hilarious “washroom” stories of your own?