a Kenya addendum

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Yesterday I told you that I was done with my Kenya posts. That’s not entirely true. I am done writing about Kenya itself, but I am not done (over)sharing about my bodily functions while there. Much as I felt compelled to tell you about my vacation-induced gastro-intestinal dilemmas, I now feel compelled to tell you all about my Kenyan pee fail. (39 was a momentous year.)

After a six-hour drive from Nairobi to the Masai Mara, the safari driver dropped me off at a camp just outside the park entrance. I had booked a three-day safari and would be sleeping for two nights in a basic tent that was permanently pitched to a concrete foundation.

I had fifteen minutes to throw my stuff in the tent and take a breather before hopping back into the safari van for an evening game drive. The camp manager showed me to my tent, informed me of the hours for breakfast (7am-9am), dinner (7pm-9pm), and electricity (5am-10pm), wished me a good afternoon, and lifted the tent flap to leave. I stopped him to ask where the bathroom was – I thought each tent was supposed to have one, yet there was nothing in the small square of space but a bed and a table.

He stepped back in, walked to the back of the tent, and unzipped a zipper that ran down the center of the back wall. Separating the tent flaps, he pointed into a separate enclosure that housed a bare-bones shower, sink, and toilet. He told me, “Make sure to zip the tent back up after using the bathroom.” Then he left, and a few minutes later, so did I.

I came back from the game drive with a horrible dust-induced headache and some time to kill before dinner. I inspected the bathroom. I noticed that it wasn’t a room so much as four walls, one with a door-shaped opening that lined up exactly with the tent’s zipper. What I originally thought was the room’s roof was actually an awning that hung over the entire tent-bathroom structure and was separated from the top of the bathroom walls by about a foot of dead air. I shuddered at the thought of how many mosquito bites I was going to get every time I used the bathroom. “No wonder the manager told me to keep the tent zipper closed,” I thought.

By dinnertime, my headache had turned into nausea, and I wasn’t hungry. The people staffing the dining area were nice enough to bring me cup after cup of hot water that I used as a steam bath for my sinuses and then drank to rehydrate myself. The only thing I could manage to eat was a big bowl of soup that served as the first course of a dinner I picked at morosely. There was nothing to do when I got back to my tent but take some headache medicine and try to go to sleep. It was 8pm.

I woke up around 11 needing desperately to pee. Duh, I thought, that’s what happens when you eat a liquid dinner. I got out of bed, unzipped the zipper to the bathroom, and clawed apart the industrial-strength velcro flaps that served as backup to the zipper. In the pitch black, I felt around on the wall for the light switch. When I finally located it, I flipped the switch. Nothing happened. It dawned on me that the power was out for the night. If I wanted to use the bathroom, I would have to pee while swatting away mosquitos with one hand and using my iphone as a flashlight with the other. Not worth the effort.

I rezipped the zipper as far as it would go. Around a foot from the floor, it refused to zip any further, so I gave up and just velcroed that last part as best as I could. I crawled back into bed, tried to ignore my full bladder, and eventually fell back to sleep…

only to be awakened by the sound of footfalls on the tent’s roof. I heard a creature pacing around the perimeter, over and over again. Perhaps based on the memory of the monkeys who stole guests’ bananas in Diani, I was certain it was a thieving monkey trying to find its way inside the tent. I did have a stash of snacks in my backpack, and monkeys have an excellent sense of smell. (I have no idea if this is true, but it felt correct at the time.) I remembered the manager’s admonition to keep the tent fully zipped, realized it was not to keep mosquitos out, but rather monkeys, and recognized with terror that my flimsily velcro-ed tent was no match for a wily monkey. Surely he could pry apart a foot of velcro and squeeze his way into my little enclosure. I sprung out of bed, attempted unsuccessfully to zip the zipper all the way down, and as a last resort put the backpack in the far corner of the room from where my bed was. I slept for another hour with the covers over my head, awakening every now and then to hear the monkey still pacing and to feel my bladder ballooning to epic proportions.

Finally, it got to be too much. I realized I would never sleep through the night with a bladder this full. I’d either pee in my bed or I’d need to brave the pitch-black bathroom and the monkey(s) that would surely jump on me mid-pee. (Keep in mind that my imagination runs away from me in direct proportion to how tired I am and how dark it is outside.) Or… was there another way? I thought about the plastic ziplock bag that held my toiletries. I could stay inside the tent, pee into the plastic bag, and dump it out and throw it away in the morning, with the electricity back on. It felt like a genius idea at the time.

What I didn’t notice was that after four weeks of opening and shutting the ziplock bag, taking it out of and putting it back into my suitcase, it had worn itself out. There were a few holes in the bag. Tiny holes, but not too tiny for liquid. So, as I peed into the bag, the bag peed onto the floor. I noticed this almost immediately but once I started peeing I could not stop – the floodgates had been opened. Luckily, the concrete floor was covered in a sort of white plastic waterproof tarp. So instead of absorbing into the floor, the pee just sat there in a puddle. I did have a half-roll of toilet paper with me, which I used to dab the floor. It absorbed perhaps 10% of the pee.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. I eyed the quick-dry camping towel that I always travel with. The camp had provided a bath towel, and the camping towel didn’t even work that well anymore… It looked like I would be saying goodbye to it on this trip. I dropped it onto the puddle, put the slowly leaking plastic bag on top, and hoped the towel was more absorbent than my recent experiences with it would indicate.

I surveyed the scene with my iphone flashlight. It was ridiculous. I was ridiculous. But now I could sleep. I’d deal with the (literal) fallout in the morning.

At 5am, my alarm rang. I woke to the immediate memory of the task that lay ahead. I would have to dispose of a pee-soaked towel and a nasty plastic bag without anyone realizing what I had put them through. I was staying in the camp one more night and assumed there would be someone coming in to clean the room. No way was I going to let that person know the depth of my insanity.

So, I topped insanity with more insanity. I sort of squeegeed all the wet toilet paper into the now empty ziplock bag, and used the damp (but miraculously not soaked) towel to carry it all to the bathroom. Also miraculously, the floor underneath the towel was dry. I used the one alcohol wipe I had in my bag to spot clean it and then entered the bathroom to do the real dirty work. Bunch by bunch, I flushed the toilet paper down the toilet. I rinsed out the bag and threw it in the trash can. Then I took a shower with the towel hanging from the shower head so that it would be washed clean of all evidence of malfeasance. When I left for the game drive at 6 that morning, I kept the towel hanging on the shower head to dry and prayed that the cleaner would not somehow put two and two together.

When I got back to the camp, I ran into the manager. I told him that I thought there had been a monkey running around on my roof the night before. He shook his head. “Impossible. Monkeys sleep at night. And even if one were awake, it wouldn’t move around a lot because leopards hunt at night.”

I asked, “Well then what was the thing on top of the roof?”

He smiled. “Oh, that’s just our cat. Sorry if he kept you awake.”

It felt like the perfect ridiculous cap to a perfectly ridiculous experience. I’ve become increasingly convinced that inhabiting my particular brain and body guarantees that these types of things will continually happen to me (or rather, that I will continually make them happen). The past few years have taught me to embrace it as part of my perfectly ridiculous self.

So, 2019 will go down as the year that I shit my pants AND had a pee accident. I truly mean this: being reminded that in so many ways, I am still a little kid, is a wonderful way to usher in my 40s.

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