This Peace Corps blog would be incomplete without an entry about bowel movements. Yep, those. I am loath to write about it because I can think of nothing more self-deprecating, but the third-world BM is a necessity to relating the Peace Corps experience, as I’m sure my fellow volunteers will agree. I am hoping that the aggregation of my posts by the end of my service will thoroughly capture the Peace Corps experience, and I would be remiss to ignore the Peace Corps BM. So, let’s get this over with.
Please imagine me squatting repugnantly over a hole with the diameter of a cantaloupe, evacuating myself of whatever fluid horror I’m currently filled with, all the while lathered in sweat and surrounded by cockroaches, lashing out at those that get too close. At least that’s how it is during the latter months of the year here. There is no confident strut to an antiseptic porcelain throne with The New Yorker folded neatly under my arm, looking forward to something solid and possibly what is referred to as a “flawless victory.” Flawless victories don’t exist here. They are pyrrhic at best, and may need to be cleaned up with those blank pages you find at the end of books, because the local shop ran out of toilet paper, and you’re desperate yet resourceful.
Furthermore, you may consider yourself lucky to have even made it to the bathroom (er, hole in the ground). Every volunteer knows the adage, “Never trust a fart,” and if you don’t heed this sage advice, you will at some point ask yourself (as a neighboring volunteer once aptly put it), “Why is my calf wet?” And then the face-numbing realization hits you, and you scurry away from public scrutiny in a pathetic waddle.
Volunteers are very tuned in to their movements. I can distinguish the “I-must-have-eaten-something-nasty” movement from the giardia movement from the severe-bacterial-infection movement. Each has its own personality. I would characterize the giardia movement as Tom Green, whose appearances are annoying and sporadic, while I would liken the severe-bacterial-infection movement to, say, Idi Amin.
Sometimes impending movements are so urgent that compromises must be made. I know one volunteer who was hurrying home in extreme duress, only to be stopped by a local official who wanted to chat. This brave volunteer silently and heroically shat himself with a poker face, all while discussing his work in a foreign language. “I only let out a little, to relieve the pressure,” he explained. Then the official left, and the volunteer stood there, in the middle of the road, waiting for him to disappear around the bend, at which point he waddled into the bush and, well, you get the picture. Another volunteer spent a night shibarfing (if you’re not familiar with this word, take a moment to reflect) for reasons unknown, then collapsed into bed with a high fever. In his delirium, he “farted”. He described said fart as “the warmest, most voluminous fart ever.” Only after the delirium of fever had abated did he realize that he had seriously boomed his pants. He noted that he was grateful to have been wearing briefs.
The worst (yes, there is worse) is when the urge wrenches your guts during an endless bush taxi ride. This has not yet happened to me. I would rather projectile vomit. I would rather cry blood. But it happens, and among the Peace Corps community, this is often known as “riding hot.” If Dante had a tenth ring of Hell that he didn’t tell us about, this would be it. For the full picture, please reread my first post about bush taxis, and add “pants full of shit” to the equation.
Fortunately, volunteers are equipped with a small arsenal of medication to control the inevitable scatological nightmare. There is Smecta, a sort of powdered clay that, when mixed with water and consumed, hinders the flow. Smecta is especially useful on bush taxi rides. And then there’s Ciprofloxacin, the Savior of Undergarments. A brief regimen of Cipro pills will turn you from diarrheal train wreck to total digestive desiccation. Ah, I love you, Cipro.
At this point, I’d like to conclude this uncomfortable entry with some advice to aspiring Peace Corps volunteers:
(1) Always carry copious amounts of relevant medications when traveling, also to include rehydration salts and toilet paper.
(2) If the urge hits you while on a bush taxi, do not wait for the “smurf tail” or the “turtlehead” to take action, because at that point it’s already too late. By all means, stop the vehicle, toss yourself out the window, and take care of business. Your fellow passengers will be grateful.
(3) Accept that, no matter what, you will be pouring horrors into a small hole in the ground, and probably in your pants, on countless occasions throughout your service. It’s part of the Peace Corps experience. Yep, Peace Corps volunteers put up with all kinds of shit.