People who know me well know that I need to pee a lot. I’m convinced that my digestive system bears a striking resemblance to a Brita filter. Matatu rides are the worst. The conditions are designed to aggravate the need to pee: your bladder is squished like every other part of your body, and may have a small child or live animal set on top of it. Every bump in the road increases the pressure. You can’t read because of the bumpiness, and you can’t listen to music because of the continuous rattling of the windows. All that’s left is for you to contemplate the small stream burbling along the side of the road and curse that second cup of coffee you drank before you left the house.

Once you get to Mbale it’s not like you can pop into the nearest McDonalds to use the facilities. Toilets are few and far between. Fortunately all the Ugandans I’ve met are very understanding and very friendly and will try to help you out. On one journey I got to the half-way point and realized that I wasn’t going to make it to Mbale. I got out at a random intersection, with a few small shops lining the road. For a remote part of a remote continent, it’s hard to find a secluded place to pee around here. Everywhere is someone’s backyard or farm, and there’s always at least one person within eyesight. Knowing this, I walked up to one of the small shops and asked the woman behind the counter where I could do a ‘short call’ (their pretty wonderful euphemism for a piss). She summoned a boy who led me though a narrow alley between the shops and into the maze of dwellings behind. It was hard to distinguish where one compound ended and another began, and there were cows and goats and hens wandering freely. The boy led me to a small wooden frame covered with dead banana leaves. Inside there was a deep hole dug into the clay. When it comes down to it, that’s all we need. I gave the boy 500 shillings for his trouble—probably a little excessive, but my relief made me giddy.

A few days later I learned how Ugandan woman approach this problem. I was sitting in a matatu by the side of the busy road connecting Jinga and Mbale. I’d already spent two full hours in the matatu, waiting for it to fill up and leave. About one mile into the journey it became apparent that the driver couldn’t get above second gear. He pulled over and made a phone call, and so we were sitting by the side of the road, waiting for our replacement matatu to come and pick us up. It had rained heavily all afternoon. The fields around us were sodden and the sky was grey. Gradually, every woman in the matatu decided she needed a short call. We were next to a big field, with no coverage from the many passing cars and small houses set back from the road. The women sauntered out into the clearing, their long colorful skirts trailing in the wet grass. One by one they stepped widely, and sank into a deep curtsey, their backs and necks straight. Their skirts billowed out. They kept their gazes high and their arms still as they held the pose. They were like swans, or dancers in some slow-moving Martha Graham piece, silhouetted against the thunder clouds. It was surreal, and it was oddly beautiful, and it was a damn convenient way to pee.