A Fine Squatting Act – Ali Syed Khoja
TRS (New Zealand) and CAI (USA) are partners in several medical and orphan care projects around the world so it is natural TRS personnel want to visit some of them. Shaida Hussain Bhayani, Imran Chunawala, Mohammed Mithani, and Ali Syed Khoja come to visit Tanzania and Kenya. It’s going to be a hectic trip; consider – Dar es Salaam – Handeni – Lushoto – Tanga – Mombasa – Tanga (by road), Tanga – Zanzibar – Pemba – Zanzibar – Dar es Salaam (by air). All in a week. Makes you dizzy, no? Well, it is.
There is a school opening in Handeni and Mombasa and schools and orphanages to inspect in Lushoto, Tanga, Pemba, and Zanzibar. While Shaida Hussain, Sohail, and I are adept at grueling travel, and our palates and stomachs are now accustomed to peculiar foods, the other three are novices. Ali Syed Khoja is a mere baby at 22, born and raised in the comfort zone of the United States of America, so he takes the brunt of the terrain and food punishment. The use of non-existing bathrooms in the bushes and the fine balancing act required to squat bring about much anguish to him and loads of amusement to the others in the group.
A very good trip. I will let Ali Syed Khoja tell his experiences through his eyes and keyboard. Edited for clarity and brevity.
My adventure starts when I arrive at an apartment in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, close to the center of the city. This is my first international trip to a third-world country. I have been to Hyderabad, India, my ancestral home, but that was in comfort and ease of returning home. I am greeted by an elder individual who is built tough and seems angry; his expression strikes fear deep in my heart – I pray that I am not entering my final resting place. Things turn for the better when I see someone I know from Houston, TX, Shaida Hussain Bhayani who heads TRS in the US. I have one day to rest and recover from jetlag at the Tanzanite Hotel nearby and eat delicious kababs and other junk food at the famous K Tea Shop. I eat up, like the others, heedless that we must start our journey across many strange-sounding locations across Tanzania, from Handeni to Mombasa in Kenya, and back, tomorrow.
I learn more about the iron-pumping, stern-looking individual as we begin our travels the next day – he has a gentler and kinder side to him, as I come to know and understand his roots and background. He hates smokers with a fiery passion and despises unremoved baggage tags. People claim he has a built-in smoke detection radar with an approximate five-mile radius on him. Little does he know; I am puffing away at my e-cigarette at the rear of the minibus, clutched tightly in my palm as we drive long distances from village to village. I truly understand the challenges of long-distance travel in rough terrain when I feel the onset of motion sickness. Being deprived of stable ground for six hours is not a joke, for me, although the others seem not overly affected. I have to tell the guys I need to pee even though I can hold out until the next pitstop, just so that I can stop being tossed about for a few minutes. The laughter is on me, no Western toilets in sight – no toilets for that matter.
I despise peeing standing up but what other options do I have? Not only am I peeing while standing but I am also without water! I am peeing in a bush with walking lanes nearby – any passing villager can just walk by and get free entertainment. My biggest fear at the moment is of a wandering animal who might chance on me doing my business and think I am a tasty snack. This is going to be a long traumatizing trip if I do not get used to peeing in uncomfortable situations very quickly. But peeing standing up is a piece of cake. I realize this soon afterward when I must use a squat-a-potty, also known as a hole-in-the-ground African toilet where I must do my nasty stuff; the K Tea Shop kababs have come to roost. My worst fears are realized when I need to go do number two and of course, it has to be at the worst possible moment. Bear in mind that I have no idea how to use one of these and am struggling to position my behind for an accurate aim. How do I not get my clothes wet or dirty, is my urgent question? I consider taking off every piece of clothing from my body as the only way to combat this first-world problem, but time is not on my side; unfortunately, I must keep them on. With my pants around my ankles in a squatting position, I somehow manage by very uncomfortably contorting my body to not get my clothes dirty. The smell does not help my experience one bit, as I am used to flushing the stuff away immediately. But in this genius invention, I am forced to accumulate all the different smells and create the ultimate odor. I fervently hope this is the last time I am put into this humbling and awkward position.
Boy am I wrong, because the next day is round two, and this time my biggest threat is a determined horse fly, making merry around my butt. I kid you not, I feel one walking on my bare butt. Rattled and terrified it might find safe passage up my behind, I frantically wriggle my butt to get it off me; it seems undeterred and continues the torment. Not learning from my previous trial, I have kept my clothes on and this time have this genius idea of parking my prescription glasses in my shirt pocket. Another frantic butt-wriggle and they go sliding down before I can blink. By the grace of God, they lodge on the edge of the gaping black hole and I grab them before they disappear. I am very distraught, so close to walking around blind the rest of the trip. I manage to make it out of the torture chamber alive and with my marbles intact. I am so shaken by the experience; I vow to be careful about what I eat the next week I am on the road. But it is difficult with so many new and varied foods on offer.
I survive and am back home. What a squatting experience!
Click here for a pictorial experience of our journey.