Let me first address the smelly elephant in the room, our good friend poop. In America poop is a private thing. We take it to another room and modulate its thickness and or frequency with a variety of pills and powders. People who have trouble with their poop will take a day off work complaining of a cold or some other, less embarrassing, trouble. And in return our stable American poop agrees to keep to a normal range of colors and consistencies.
Not so in Timor. Poop, its frequency consistency, power and over all our ability to control it are front and center in our minds. When meeting a volunteer for an activity or long trip we say, “How are you?” But what we really mean is, “What is your poop situation?” Because this is a part of our tropical lives that figures heavily into whether it will be a good or bad day.
Is he going to get more specific? Yes. Food contamination and fecal oral transfer through flies and unwashed hands are the most common causes of intestinal distress. But also the drinking of Palm wine, the eating of Timorese cabbage called Repollo (Ra-poy-0) or the over use of the jacked up hot sauce they have here called Ai Manas (oh hot! In translation) can also turn an ordinary day into one that needs to be spent within fifteen feet of a santina (Bathroom).
There is also the matter of common madness and bodily trust, in America nothing that happened in the bathroom ever shook my agnosticism. Here in the developing world I have found cause to pray as I squat. Lately bathrooms have been smelling like an overheated car or smoldering tire after I use them. I have no idea what to make of that.
In the short seven weeks we have been together the volunteers have amassed some hilarious stories about people not taking enough care with their bowels. One of our Volunteers tells a story about visiting a family and not being able to exit the house after dark because the door was padlocked. He briefly considered pooping out a window but ended up being overpowered on a news paper he had been reading. He then rolled up the mess and fed the evidence to the pigs. “Man those pigs sure did like that newspaper burrito I fed em. Special guacamole and all…”
So when my gut demanded a trip to the bathroom, on my second day of site visit to Tibar, I was all too willing to listen. My host family had told me never to leave their home after dark, but some things take precedence over site security. I slapped on some shorts grabbed the toilet paper and headed out to their santina, a mere twenty yards of flat land from the back door.
I took two steps off of the cement stairs from my house before realizing I was sinking into a thick sticky mud. The dusty back yard had been perfectly solid when I went to bed. I tried to make it but the mud became less solid as I got farther from the house. Soon I was enveloped to my upper calf and in danger of tipping over. It started to rain lightly then and I considered my options.
I must have made some noise because when my family found me I was digging a hole between my buried calves, determined to take care of the most pressing of my problems. And by now it was really pressing. Suddenly, my family became merry, laughing and quickly discussing my problem. My host mother padded lightly past me without sinking in the mud at all (using magic feet? What!). She grabbed a long plank from the nearby kitchen area then asked where I wanted to go. I pointed at thesantina. She laughed again and tossed the plank towards me it landed in almost the perfect connecting line. She then padded to it stepped up and took my hand. The mud made disappointed sucking sounds as I left it and I hurried past her to my prize.
When I had recovered I washed my hands and made my way out. My family had set up planks all the way back into the house by way of the kitchen area. I balanced across them and was accosted by my new host father. He was smoking a thick Indonesian cigarette and scowling. He is one of the largest Timorese men I have ever seen, the neighborhood kids call him Seiko Metan (Francisco the black) and it looks like he might have some African in his heritage. He turned on a hose and spun me around washing the mud off my calves and hands. In the end I was soaked. He nodded and silently padded back to the house.
By end of day tomorrow everyone in Tibar will know about this if I don’t miss my guess. Well I can only be myself and they had to meet me sometime.