Well, the power has gone out and although I can hear the generator running outside my room, I’m in the discount wing, which is not an area supported by the generator it would seem. So I’m typing by candlelight (candles and matches are a staple of every Kenyan hotel room I have ever been in) and hoping the battery on my computer lasts long enough for me to tell my story.
Around noon today I asked my driver if there was a latrine around that I could use. I was out collecting feed samples with a local veterinarian. There is no electricity or running water in the villages, but usually in the marketplaces where there are restaurants and stores, there are one or two latrines. It’s just an outhouse with a hole cut into the floor (which is usually cement, sometimes dirt, today it was wooden).
I should explain that to keep my money safe I loop the string of a small white fabric bag through the button of my pants and then do up the button and my belt. I know no one can grab it and if I’m in a crowded space where I feel a bit vulnerable I just tuck the bag in my pants. Sorry if that’s too much information but it has worked really well for me up until today. Well today that’s where it was, safe and sound, but I forgot about it briefly and at the worst possible time. I swear I watched it fall – a perfect swish- right down the hole. I saw it go but could do nothing to stop it from happening. I now have a lot of empathy for my brother Andy who dropped an ice pick into the lake when we were ice fishing once. You can stand there and hope with all your heart but deep down you just know it’s not coming back up.
I swore. I’ll admit it.
I went back out to the road and told the driver I had a bit of a problem (he speaks English). He told everyone hanging out in front of the restaurant and those people went and rounded up their friends and soon there was quite a crowd peering down the latrine hole to see where my money was. Even at the time I recognized the humour in the situation. I’m lucky because I have very good friends in this country who would have come to the town I’m in to help me out if I was penniless and without a bank card so I didn’t need to panic. Still, some of you may know I have a slight, okay BIG, independent streak and I didn’t really want to have to make that call. My friends were on a bus heading back to the village and I didn’t want to cause a commotion plus I had work to do today and needed money to get it done!
So picture 9 Kenyan men of various ages figuring out how to get the bag with money out of the latrine without having to go down there. Nobody wanted to go down there. It’s amazing how many men can fit in a latrine at once really. I think they were telling me it happens all the time since they were patting their chest pockets and pants pockets and looking at me with empathy while they spoke incredibly quickly in Kiluhya. I didn’t ask for clarification in the interest of finding of a solution to the problem!
They got a long stick and nailed a plastic cup to the end of it. Tool #1. Then they got a flashlight. Tool #2. Then they got another long stick. Tool #3. After about 15 minutes of men coming and going and a lot of talking and peering down the hole and boys coming running with ever larger flashlights, they came over to where I was standing, staying out of the way, waiting with 2 short and ancient looking grandmas who were concerned but entertained at the same time (much like me). “The problem”, the man who was chosen to come and talk to me said ” is that we can’t see it”. Ha ha ha. They had been looking all that time but never asked me what it looked like and I had been thinking how hard can it be see? It would be right on top wouldn’t it?
So I took the flashlight and waited for 3 or 4 men to leave the latrine to make room for me to go in comfortably (there were still at least 3 of them in there) and stuck my hand through the hole ( yes- seriously I really did! I mean what else could I do??) and shone the light on my white small cloth bag. “Right there in the light” I said. “IT”S WHITE???” came the shocked reply. I don’t know why that was so shocking. Not sure what colour it was supposed to be. But that sure sped up the process in a hurry.
They shoved the small bag (about the size of a small pack of cigarettes) into the plastic cup using the other long stick. Once I saw the bag was in the cup I cheered and then cleared out so there was room for the sticks to come up and out. I didn’t want to risk causing the cup apparatus to malfunction since it didn’t look entirely sturdy, and have to start the process all over again. It was a beautiful moment when that bag saw the light of day again.
Well to be honest it wasn’t beautiful at all but I won’t go there. Suffice it to say that I no longer own that bag, my bank card has been cleaned with hand sanitizer so many times I think the magnetic strip may have been burned off, the soaking wet cash-someone kindly dumped water all over in an attempt to wash, is in a ziplock bag in my hotel room and I don’t know if I will ever be able to touch it, and I cut off my arm that was holding the flashlight down the hole since it was the only way I could really feel it was clean again. Not really but I considered it.
I left enough money (from the pile that had been so kindly rinsed) so that my rescuers could all buy themselves a “soda”. I think they probably felt it was a fair trade since the rescue in itself was very exciting and took a lot of discussion and planning and was probably the highlight of their day.
I also bet they all had a well-deserved laugh over it as they had their sodas.