I seriously considered peeing in a basin this morning. It was 3:45am and my choices were the basin or the latrine. The latrine involves opening the back door of the house via two extremely loud bolts, walking around the side of the house, crossing by the rubbish pit, avoiding the cheetah/dog that lurks around there (exact species tbd), then entering the little concrete cubicle, all by the light of a flashlight. In case you didn’t know, latrine is a fancy word for a hole in the ground. Try peeing in one of those while also remaining in control of your flashlight. I chose the latrine, and lived to tell the tale. But this leads me to my Guest House rule #1: I will not drink anything for at least two hours before I go to bed. I’ve also moved a basin into my room, because you never know.

 

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The Cynthia Margeson Guest House is located at the top of a small hill beside the main road leading in and out of Kikholo trading center. It has a large airy main room with an area to sit around and a big dining table. At the back of the room is the table where the cook Jennifer sets out the food and the ‘staging table’ for all bathroom operations. This table is covered with bottles of hand sanitizer, bottles of boiled water for teeth brushing, toilet paper, basins and jugs. Out back there is some grass, the large water tank where you can collect all your water for washing, and the kitchen and store room. There’s a verandah out front where you can sit and watch everyone passing on the road below. All around are small farms and there are constantly chicken, cows and goats wandering about. It’s extremely peaceful.

The front of the guest house The view from the verandah

Of course I have already identified some key items that I should have brought. Hand sanitizer is one, given the whole latrine situation. A few nights ago when it was time to brush our teeth I was a little amused when Charlee, another volunteer, appeared with a headlight strapped to her head, coal miner-style. Then I turned around and everyone had lights strapped to their heads, coal miner-style. Turns out it’s a lot easier to brush your teeth with bottled water in the back yard in the pitch dark with a miner light, not to mention go to the latrine.

The last few days of living here have transformed my reality completely. A real live rooster wakes me each morning, usually accompanied by an angry cow. I take splash baths with a basin and some cold water. I wash my hair in the concrete “bathing room” that’s attached to my bedroom. Think of that scene from Out of Africa when Robert Redford washes Meryl Streep’s hair while they’re on safari. Now erase it from your mind. My process involves doing a semi-headstand in a basin of water, and some very strategic rinsing. But the water is cool and it’s always peaceful, with just the sounds of my own splashing and the kids playing outside. We had power for the first twenty-four hours I was here, but since then it’s been on and off. I really don’t mind. Once it’s dark we have kerosene lamps and if you go outside the stars are just about the greatest thing you’ve ever seen. The cook Jennifer produces amazing 5-dish meals from the small concrete room behind the house. She has two propane burners, and that’s about it, but tonight we had rice, vegetable stew, omelet, potatoes and pasta. People read and talk and type and go to bed by 9:30pm. I crawl under my mosquito net and read, but my eyes usually shut by 10pm. The rooster kicks in around 6am. The alarm on my mobile phone consists of some British woman repeating “It’s time to get up” very politely, but quite insistently. It adds a nice vibe to the morning. Sometimes kids who live nearby come and visit. Benard in particular likes to play the games on Charlee’s mobile phone. A little lamb also makes occasional forays into the living room, and the chickens peck around the back door. At night there is a watchman who patrols around the yard. He came in to meet us and sat down with his AK-47 by his side. We chatted, and then the frightening question arose in my mind: will he recognize me on a midnight latrine trip without a miner-light? Here’s hoping.

 

 

Words like incredible and amazing roll off the tongue pretty easily here. It’s so different in every way from my life in the states, but it doesn’t feel like it’s been that big of an adjustment. Living like this feels good. I’ve never been so excited about just being somewhere and I’m rested and relaxed and happy. Now if I could just get my hands on a headlight . . .

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