There are Places I Remember

When I was pregnant, I quickly learned where the toilet of every store was located. I kept a mental note about whether they were clean and well stocked, so that I could avoid having an unpleasant peeing experience. When my kids were born I added to this knowledge which bathrooms had a clean area in which to change a diaper, and how difficult they made it to wash a child’s hands (after all, you can’t hold a child in hover position over the sink, apply soap and help them rub their hands together if you have to hold the faucet down to keep the water running).  When the kids got old enough to read, I had to add an assessment of wall graffiti.

Lately I have become a connoisseur of bathrooms on a whole new level. That little stick figure in the wheelchair can mean a lot of things, depending on how old the bathroom is and how the laws were interpreted by the builder. It may simply mean that the bathroom door is wide enough to let a wheelchair make it’s way to the toilet. It may or may not mean that the toilet is of the larger, taller style that makes on and off easier for someone with limited mobility. It may or may not mean that there are bars on the walls for those who need something to hold onto. If there are bars, they may or may not be on the proper side of the wall to make it helpful for someone with only the use of one arm. In some very dreamy situations it means that the bathroom is a “family” bathroom that allows a caretaker of the opposite sex to enter, has bars on the right side, sports a tall and sturdy seat, enough room to maneuver to the sink where there is room for legs to fit underneath to make it possible for the disabled person to actually reach the faucets and water, soap that automatically dispenses and plenty of absorbent towels. When I find one like that, I have to fight against the urge to hug everyone I meet as I leave the building.

What a distance my life has traveled! In my younger years on the African continent, a public restroom was something of an oddity. Most days we just looked for a tree far enough (but not too far) away from the crowd, and hopefully not in the path of little boys herding cattle. We avoided thorns, snakes and bugs, and never left home without a roll of toilet paper in the car. If there was a public restroom to be found they were usually so disgusting that we would opt for a tree if we could. But there was an outhouse once….

When my grandparents came to visit us we went camping in a nearby game reserve after a day of driving around watching these two East Texan country dwellers react to the various sights and sounds of the Serengeti. There were two things right off the bat that set this camping trip apart from others we had been on in the past. The first is that we had borrowed someone’s pop-up camper in order to keep my dad’s elderly parents from having to sleep on the ground in a tent. Up to that point I didn’t even know that anyone in Africa had a camper. The other thing that set this trip apart is that we were actually staying in an official campground, instead of just staying out in the middle of nowhere like we did when we would go on hunting trips. Also something I did not know existed. When we got to the campground, around supper time, it took us a while to get the camper to “pop up”and it was dark before mom was able to get in and start dinner.

My sister Cindy and I had been watching our brothers build a campfire. We decided that while we waited for the food to be cooked we would take a flashlight and walk the 25 yards or so to the outhouse at the edge of camp. On the way there I told her of the snakes my friend had told me about called boomslangs. They evidently have the reputation of dropping out of trees onto their prey, and I was praying not to become their prey this night. Then we wondered aloud to each other about the condition of the outhouse. As we got to the door, I was in front with the flashlight and Cindy was right behind me. I flashed the light around the room, and began to comment on the surprising cleanliness of the room when the light rested on the area just the other side of the toilet (approximately 4 feet from my location). There, sitting quietly, was a warthog of ginormous proportions. The only thing to do at this point was to throw our hands in the air, scream and run back to the campfire.

I am not sure why, but when we told the boys that there was a warthog in the outhouse, they scoffed. Then one of them took the flashlight and went back to the outhouse to look for himself. “Yep” he said, there is a warthog in there” So far the warthog had been totally unaffected by our surprise visit and subsequent hysteria. Being on a game reserve, we were not permitted to have our guns, so shooting it and converting the carcas to sausage and pork chops was not an option. Thus, we went and found the nightwatchman who apparently had not anticipated a wild pig invasion and had indulged in a bit of banana beer to pass the time. He, too, had to look for himself and confirm that we had, indeed, seen a warthog in the bathroom.

The nightwatchman went to the campfire, took a smoking branch from it’s edge, and proceeded to toss that into the makeshift hog shelter which inspired the pig to do exactly nothing. He told us to keep the beam of our flashlight aimed at the door, that he would be right back (presumably having quenched his thirst). Cindy and I sat huddled together holding the flashlight and watching. Suddenly, Mr Big Ugly Hog made an appearance at the door and stood eyeing us. “There he is!” we said in hushed voices. Everyone stopped to see what would happen next. The warthog turned towards us and began to run in our direction. Mayhem and hysteria were rampant. Cindy and I ran to the door of the camper and hurled ourselves in to its safety. My grandparents (who were thought to be too old to weather the ground for a night) climbed to the top of the Land Rover faster than the speed of light. My brothers doubled over and fell to the ground laughing so hard that tears were rolling down their faces. It turns out the warthog only ran our direction the two feet it took to round the corner of the outhouse, then ran off into the dark of the trees. Well, did you actually think I would stick around to make sure he was coming to gore my legs with his tusks?

Once the excitement was over we took on the task of helping our grandparents find their way down to the ground from the top of the car. Apparently it is quite a bit easier to climb up a Land Rover with the fear of charging pigs than it is to climb down in perfect peace and calm. At any rate, we all survived to see another day. But I can’t for the life of me remember what we had for dinner that night!

We have these moments – or at least some of us do.

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9 Responses to There are Places I Remember

  1. Completely hysterical!!! Nothing like a great warthog/outhouse story to start the day off right! Thank you for that!

  2. Brenda Keck says:

    I built a fire this morning and the smell of it already had me so homesick! This hilarious story has done me in! One of the things I miss the most about living in Africa was that absurdity was a way of life. Life can be so predictable and boring here. Even on the farm, I never once found a wild pig in my bathroom. Boooringgg.

    • Yes, nothing like a fire and the clink of silverware to transport me right back to the dining room at the Brackenhurst Hotel. It helps if it is foggy also. We didn’t always see the absurdity of the life we lived, though. It was just life. That’s why it was such an eyeopener to have Grandmother and Granddaddy come out. It was one of those, “oh, I guess the rest of the world doesn’t live this way” moments for me. I suspect there is a lot of absurdity in our lives here that just seems normal.

  3. tinuviel says:

    This is one of my favorite of the Africa stories. I made A tell it to me during the repair part of the cancer surgery to distract me so I wouldn’t faint again.

    Like you and Brenda, he often says the smell of wood smoke on a foggy or damp day reminds him of East Africa, even though in general he laments how few are his childhood memories. He wants to return to see if that helps him remember more, but he has specific requirements for such a trip which have not yet been possible.

    • It makes me sad that he doesn’t have more memories. He was such a fun child and made such an impression on everyone. He came back at a fairly pivotal age, and I imagine his brain was taken over with the adjustment process – much like my lack of memory from before we went to Africa. I am not always sure what is true memory and was is dreams. How does my story compare with his?

  4. Cindy V says:

    As with all master storytellers, you transported me & called up vivid pictures of this hilarious event. Tanks for making me LAUGH, not just smile or grin.

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