Ungracefully Phoebs: Oh the places I’ve peed!

Two Phoebe characteristics are that I need to eat frequently and I pee a lot. I have had difficulties doing both of those while in Uganda. Each day I spend some time worrying about when I might eat (in the U.S. I can’t go more than 3 hours without eating) and where I might be able to pee. At the start of each day I don’t drink any water because I am too afraid of having to pee a lot (another Phoebe characteristics is that I am always drinking water).

The past few days we have been in a few different villages and each day I have had a nerve wracking experience trying to find somewhere to pee without embarrassing myself too much.

Yesterday after hours of conducting interviews I asked someone I was working with where I could go to the bathroom (which I am always kind of embarrassed to ask for some reason). She asked, “will it be a short visit?” I replied “yes” and thought to myself “thank god!” She took me a very short distance away from where lots of kids and a few adults where hanging out and near the straw home where we were doing our research. There was a little tee-pee (pun not intended but have been wracking my brain for a way to describe, if only I had a picture…) stick structure covered on the sides by white plastic. The structure was open on top and only went up to my chest and was just used to enclose a small patch of dirt presumably where everyone peed. I saw a small tarp hanging across and mumbled about how to open it but my guide had already walked away. I decided my goal should be to be as fast and inconspicuous as possible because I felt close to people and right by other straw homes. I tried to pull the tarp across the structure as a door and it stayed up for one second and then just kind of fell on my back right as I started pulling my pants down. So, I squatted down in an open little dirt area with a tarp on my back pretending like no one could see me. One of my best skills is I am a fast peer so I decided to just go for it, finish peeing, ducked as I pulled my pants up, and stood up with the thought “nothing to see here.” I hung up the tarp and ran back to our interview location not even looking to see if anyone saw me. This time desperately pretending to be invisible.

Today I found a relatively okay bathroom (or hole in the ground) near a sub-county office in the village. Due to my fear of being locked in a bathroom, the heat and smell I always try to leave the door slightly open. When I walked into this one it was filled with flies. Not just the occasional few but so many I questioned whether it was safe to pull my pants down. I thought carefully about whether a fly could fly up my butt. I decided I was already in there and again peed super fast.

Later today, we were eating at a shack type place on the side of the road. One of the people I was with used the bathroom and returned saying she was surprised that the bathroom wasn’t too bad there. I felt slightly pleased that she also cared about this and it wasn’t just my cushy American concerns. The rest of the group I was with headed to the car and when I asked my friend where the bathroom was she pointed in a general direction behind the restaurant without other directions. I ended up in a courtyard with two cows and chickens (I didn’t eat any meat that meal but at least I would have known it was fresh). I saw doorways with curtains on them, but I was afraid of entering the wrong one and walking into someone’s home. I asked someone working in the kitchen who spoke no English where the toilet was and finally we used enough hand signals and I found a bathroom/hole in the ground across from the area the little cows were resting. The cows seemed perturbed by my presence. Again, I peed with the door slightly open with the hope only the cows could see me. As I speedily peed I could hear what to me sounded like irritated mooing. As I left the bathroom the cows started to get up and I again ran out of the courtyard trying to not disturb any person or animal.

I will never complain about a dirty gas st


Ungracefully Phoebs: No Wifi, Big Problem

This is my first “ungracefully Phoebs” post since being in Nairobi so I am happy that at least my overreacting and loneliness will produce another post in the series!

Our wifi has been out since last night and our power has been going in and out. Now I can hear you all saying “you are in Africa don’t expect wifi,” but as I have written Nairobi is quite a modern city which might be part of the problem. Things almost feel too familiar here at times that I think it makes me feel more homesick. Why spend my time at a big bar with Westerners when I can do the same thing in Boston?

So like any logical 30-year-old on an adventure I turned on my U.S. cell phone and called my mom and started to cry. I am now writing this blog post to pretend that I am not alone and convince myself I am in conversation with someone even if it is just me writing in a word doc that I won’t be able to post until the damn wifi comes back!

It is not just having no wifi it is it that it is night-time and there is no wifi. I will be so happy and sure of myself during the day and as soon as it is night-time I question my decision to be here, my dissertation, and the meaning of life. I keep telling myself that in the morning I will be back to being content and positive Phoebe (which is truly how I have felt most of the time here), but nighttime Phoebe doesn’t quite believe it. I am like a werewolf (or is it a vampire) except instead of an evil side that comes out at night my emotional, homesick, negative, and insecure side comes out.

I am always envious of people who are really good at being alone and who are super independent. Although as I read this over it is pretty damn independent to travel to Kenya by myself, plan my own interviews, and spend my days meeting with strangers. I might incorrectly assume that independent people are not lonely or scared, but maybe I am wrong. Not having wifi means I can’t email or text and have to be alone with myself. This whole trip feels like being alone even when I am around people. I am trying to be “competent researcher” or “good roommate” or “new friend” and haven’t yet let my guard down. I am scared if I become vulnerable here to someone I will look weak or fall apart. I am around people who have lived here for a while and I feel like the new kid at school trying to make friends, look cool, and not reveal how little they know and how nervous they are.

It could be that I am afraid of silence. Even at home in the U.S. when I am alone in the house doing something mundane I have to have a podcast in the background. Am I that afraid of being alone with my thoughts? Well right now I am really absorbing the pseudo silence. I can hear the sink that drips all night and people outside in the courtyard talking loudly and cheerfully to each other. I feel like I can hear my heart pounding but that is probably an overstatement.

I tried to put it off for as long as I could, but I did the thing where I start counting down days until I leave. My friend and I joke that we are obsessed with travel until we actually get there and then we want to go home. A goal before this trip was to really be present and enjoy it and remember that when I am home and when I can’t travel as easily I will be envious of this freedom and this time. So that is in contradiction with having a countdown. Time passes as the same rate whether I count it or not so I might as well try to be in each moment instead of waiting for the next to come.

My mom was comforting me and asking me if I have ever regretted any of my adventures. The answer is without a doubt that I have never ever regretted them. Even though last time I went to Kenya I got TB for 4 months and was miserable –  I still wouldn’t have traded that experience. Even through all the travel annoyances that happen or the loneliness whether in a weird hotel in Germany owned by Russians or a beautiful apartment in Nairobi with no wifi it always seems to be worth it.

I just looked at my phone and had an email from earlier today I decided to open from some spiritual artistic lady. I usually never open these emails, but in my desperate state I figured I would read every email in my inbox. My friend would say the universe was winking at me with this email. I opened it and the first line in big font was, “The capacity to be alone is the capacity to love. – Osho”

Ungracefully Phoebs – Water World

            Showering has become a difficult process in Nairobi. The water is usually scorching hot and you can only put it on so it drips out or you are in pain standing under it. I know that it is ridiculous to complain about having hot water when in most places in Africa that is a luxury, but I haven’t quite figured this system out. The pressure and temperature are different on different days so you never know what to expect. Occasionally the water goes out in the apartment entirely. The frustration with the showering and water often makes me feel homesick. I now long for the shower in my apartment that we would complain changed temperatures so suddenly. At least it is reliable.

            After a weekend of not showering on safari (even though there was a nice looking shower in our tent I felt being on a safari was an excuse not to have to shower), I was so excited to get out of my dusty clothes and be clean. I got in the shower and there was no pressure so I guess I must have turned the knob in frustration when all of the sudden the knob broke off. Water started shooting out of the shower wall from where the knob was supposed to be. I fiddled with it for a few minutes in the shower cursing and then convinced myself that my crafty roommate J for sure could fix it. J tries for a little, but then tells me to call our handyman. He picks up and I hear loud noise in the background as if he is at a party (doesn’t bode well for us). I try to explain the issue and he tells me he will check it out on Monday. I stress that it cannot wait until Monday and the apartment is flooding. Not seeming too concerned he assures me he will try to send someone else.

            In the meantime I am putting buckets in the shower and trying again to fit the knob in and repeatedly getting new sets of clothes sopping wet. I felt so helpless just watching the shower fill up and the bathroom floor become soaked. I went through all the towels in our apartment and the water started to leak into the beautiful closet. I wanted to cry, but J keeps me laughing and urges me not to. She orders take-out thai food while I alternate between being on the computer, calling the super and using the word emergency, and staring at the bathroom with my head in my hands. After several phone calls our super says someone is at the gate. I expect to see a car turning in when I see a young man running on foot.

He comes in and tries to turn off the water. This time the water decides to not shut off completely. He was a man of few words so I decided to just let him to his task without me anxiously watching. He seemed confident it would be okay. After another fifteen minutes hiding in J’s room I was convinced that we were going to be living in an marsh similar to the hippos I saw last weekend when I finally hear the water stop. I had never been so excited to hear a shower turn off.

This experience demonstrated a theme that I have noticed in Kenyans in my time here, they do not seem to get easily flustered, whether it is in traffic that is not moving or a flooding bathroom. I hope this attitude is contagious, but for now I am going to be more careful when I turn the faucets in the shower.

Ungracefully Phoebs: In the Wild

I had to pee and was getting restless about two hours into our adventure in the national park. There did not seem to be a bathroom or civilization in sight so I decided if I didn’t acknowledge it, it would not be an issue. To my surprise, J asked our driver David, whether there was a bathroom anywhere. He responded with his usual chuckle. Twenty minutes later he pulls over in an area where we saw no other cars and parks the car. I must say there is nothing like peeing behind a van in the middle of the savannah in a national park wondering if some tourist is going to accidentally zoom in on you with their fancy camera. I certainly did not do pop a squat gracefully, but it was a memorable experience and one of the coolest places I have ever gone to the bathroom.

After we got out to go to the bathroom so casually and since David got out another time to try to see an elephant in the distance, I thought it was no big deal to get out of the car if we were in a safe area. When we ended up behind a bus of tourists gawking at tons of giraffes I asked David if it would be a problem if we got out of the car. Despite what it sounds like we weren’t those obnoxious tourist trying to feed the giraffes, but just stood near our van to get some pictures. Next thing I knew a man pulls up in a tourist van yelling at us, “Get back in the van. Get back in the van. This is not allowed! Never has this happened before!” I stand there stunned and mortified. David sips his coffee and smiles. I try to get back in the van and remember that David removed the door handle from the door closest to us. I wait panicking for him to open it, but he is slowly finishing his coffee. The other tour guide yells, “Get in the van quickly! I am going to report you!” I run to the other side, slam the door, shut the window, and hunch down shaking. At this point I had images of park police speeding through the savannah to arrest us. We drive away and I tell David I am scared and ask if everything is okay. He is still completely unfazed and replies, “If anyone asks if you were out of the car you say no. They have no proof.” Now I have images of them doing an analysis of our footprints and finding an image of us out of the van on another tourist camera. I am envisioning an intensive investigation under a bright light and have decided I would definitely be the first to crack out of the three of us. David also reassures us that there are so many exits they would never find us. A quick get away out of the park was not what I was anticipating. After about an hour and another lion sighting my panic has finally subsided. I am not a rule breaker and could not believe I could have gotten chuckling David or us in trouble just to get a good picture. Although to be honest the picture might have been my best one.

Ungracefully Phoebs – My New Series

This is my first post of a series I am trying out that my wonderful blogger expert friend suggested (thanks R). Today was an ungraceful and rough day for me. I was feeling low energy and out of it. On my way to the first big meeting I was having with the team I will be working with this summer I fell down the stairs. I blame the new shoes that I thought were such a great purchase. Perhaps, this is why they were on sale! Since I fall down (or up) stairs quite frequently I am actually used to it, but I think it set the tone for how the meeting would proceed, which was shaky. It was not as catastrophic as I made it seem the rest of the day, but as someone who over prepares for everything I felt flustered the entire time and like I was being tested. There was a moment, my co-worker recounted, that I seemed like I wasn’t going to regain my confidence during the meeting, but I ended up pulling it together. A few jokes always help to boost my confidence.

For a few hours after the meeting I felt the most low I have since I got here. I knew the meeting was not a big deal, but I just felt out of sorts. I was able to turn my mood around by reminding myself that I am in Africa! It still seems surreal that I am actually here, but I want to be sure to not forget it!

I welcome feedback on the new series!