Inventions, Creations, Experiments,  Wanderlust: Travel Tales

Nurse Anne Reflects on African Toilets

I’ve been trying to write about Africa, but it’s been slow going. We’re over the trauma of the stitches but still have to be careful when washing or brushing Porter’s hair. Now we’re on to the next ailment, and while it’s not bloody, it’s equally unpleasant.

This morning the school called to say that Finn was in the health room with an upset stomach. I drove to the school and got him, dosed him with Pepto, stuck him in the bed and resumed writing. Ten minutes later the phone rang and the health room nurse was on the phone again. She was very apologetic when she told me that Porter was complaining of stomach pains, and that in fact a stomach virus was going around.

When I got to the school, I asked the nurse to check on Drew so I could perhaps save myself another trip, and she reported that his stomach was fine and that he was working on spelling words. Porter and I headed to Publix for Imodium and chicken soup, and then he, too, was sent off to bed.

I’ve hung around at the school more than I do on an average day, and it’s put me in an academic frame of mind. I’ll confess that I knew nothing about Africa before I went. It turns out that saying, “I’m going to Africa” is about as precise as saying, “Hey, I’m headed to North America,” and whether that means Tampa or Juneau is anybody’s guess.

Africa is a huge continent, and I visited two countries: Tanzania and Kenya in East Africa. Even so, I didn’t see a majority of either country; we hung out in an area that looks small on the map but that was vast in reality. Here’s an attempt to put it in perspective.

This is a map of Africa. Kenya and Tanzania are on the far right side, in the middle. Look up above at Italy and England. See how tiny they are in comparison? Kenya is about twice the size of Nevada, and Tanzania is about twice the size of California.

Now I’ll show you the areas we went. Click here to see a close up view of Kenya and Tanzania. If you look at the imaginary circle around the border of the two countries that is formed by going from Nairobi to Masai Mara to the Serengeti to Ngorongoro to Mount Kilimanjaro and then Amboseli, you’ll see the areas we explored. That’s enough geography for one day.

Several weeks ago I compared my childless sister’s pristine apartment to my clearly lived-in house. While I was in Africa, it occurred to me that I could point out the differences between my home and some places I visited. I have all kinds of comparisons to make, but given the amount of time my boys have spent on the toilet today, that seems like a good place to start.

Many African potties look like this:

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You might find a bush or a smaller tree depending on the landscape. However, if you’re in the Serengeti (“endless plain”), you won’t see any trees so you just squat behind your vehicle.

That’s why when you see something like this you get really excited:

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It may be a hole in the floor, but observe the walls that guarantee some measure of privacy. Note also the ample supply of blue toilet paper hanging on the wall.

At one stop we found this beautifully decorated spot:

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The mauve and gray mosaic were so pleasing to the eye that I forgot to ask, “Why did they spend the time and money on installing this fancy floor instead of buying a real toilet?” I liked this particular hole so much I could picture myself using it, like so:

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Or if I found myself suffering from a problem like Finn and Porter’s, I could have used it a different way:

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At one airstrip (and I use that term loosely to mean “patch of grass that a man had chased an eland from just before our tiny airplane touched down“) I was encouraged when I saw this sign:

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because I figured that lady was pointing to something substantial on which I could relieve myself. And I was right!

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After all the bushes and holes I’d seen, I wasn’t going to let something like the absence of a toilet seat get me down.

One camp we stayed in advertised itself as being “as authentic and simple as possible.” I could write an entire post about this camp, but translated into safari-speak, this description means: “No electricity or running water but we do provide you with your own tented potty. Be careful of roaming cape buffalo when leaving your tent to use it at night.”

Here I am shoveling ash into my private potty.

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Here is a cape buffalo.

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I did not leave my tent to use the bathroom at night.

Not all our bathrooms were so rustic. At Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, our toilet looked like this:

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Fresh roses! And instead of staring at the walls or the floor while you tended to your business, you could look out the window at this view:

Africa 06redo 671(click to enlarge)

This is looking out at the crater, which was breathtaking. Three million years ago Ngorongoro was a peak about the size of Kilimanjaro. The volcano collapsed, forming a huge crater populated with all sorts of animals. You drive down a steep road into the bottom of the crater to see lions, hyena, flamingo, and other animals.

I didn’t get as good a picture of the crater as a whole that is anywhere as good as this one I found by Googling. I couldn’t figure out who took the picture, but it’s breathtaking and captures the view perfectly.

It looks like I’ll be nursing my men far into the night. I just talked to Bill, who seems to be suffering symptoms similar to those of Finn and Porter. I’m going to sign off now to go pick some flowers. I’ll put them in our bathroom with some fresh toilet paper and a copy of the latest Sports Illustrated for Bill’s enjoyment, because he may be spending some quality time in there. At least he won’t be squatting over a hole, or looking over his shoulder to make sure a cape buffalo isn’t bearing down on him.