Adventures of s/v WILD HAIR


Our land life took on form, solidity, routine. We had mastery of a limited set of skills. We had habitual expectations of others and ourselves. Going sailing, we let go of our attachments to our roles, views, and rituals. We persist because we are growing in this shapeless and dynamic world.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Pit Stop

Sometimes, a woman has just got to go. Dave and I had been traveling for hours in a Land Rover with our guide Ronald and driver Chuli. I had missed my cue to duck into the trees and relieve myself when Chuli had pulled to the side of the road an hour earlier to “change his shoes.” I asked Ronald if he might—at the next opportunity—find me a toilet.

Uganda is not known for its rest stops. Most villages do not have public buildings or restaurants. Thinking he meant another wooded area, I nodded in agreement when Ronald indicated he would find me something “around here.”

Chuli pulled over at a small cluster of homes. There were a half dozen women sitting under a tree in front of the homes, and Ronald hopped out and began a conversation in some version of his native tongue. I looked at Dave with some trepidation and asked, "What's going on?"

"I don't know," he said. "But whatever it is I think you're in for an adventure!"

It is important to know that white people—known as mzungus—are rare in the country. Everywhere Dave and I went we were something of a novelty. Children especially flocked to us to strike up conversations. When our Land Rover stopped in this small village and the guide announced that the mzungu lady needed to pee, everyone in the community stopped what they were doing and came to see what was happening.

Leary, embarrassed, I emerged from the car. It seemed to me that the women under the tree were not pleased. They made unhappy faces as they argued between themselves. Finally, one young woman stood and indicated that I was to follow her. We walked among the more than dozen single-room mud and stick structures in the compound. The private universe was quiet, dappled with sunlight, and accented by chickens underfoot. Thankfully, the ever-growing crowd stayed at the street.

Eventually, the woman stopped. Turning to me with a smile that lit her face in unexpected beauty she announced, “Here.”

“Here,” I repeated?

“Here,” she affirmed, laughing.

This mud and stick structure was about chest-high. The building was divided into two sides (male and female?) and I was to enter behind a mere suggestion of a burlap curtain. Once inside, I found a swarm of flying insects and a hole in the dirt. After doing my business, I noticed that the bit of toilet paper I always carried in my pants pocket was the only contribution of paper in the pit; I felt grateful to have it.

Alone, I made my way back to the vehicle and the now-enormous crowd of people surrounding it. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had imposed upon these women, making them uncomfortable by the idea that a foreigner had barged in and used their home in an undignified way. Feeling bad and confused as to how to make amends, I called, “Thank you, Sisters!” To my relief, this prompted a warm and friendly cascade of laughter.

Driving away, Ronald turned to the back seat and volunteered, “The women were very concerned that their toilets weren’t nice enough for you. They were arguing over who had the best facility!” I shook my head in wonderment over my misunderstanding and smiled at their open and generous hearts.

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