Expat adventures aren’t all about finding cats in foreign hospital hallways, breaking a leg in the jungle or almost ending up in jail. Sometimes all you have to do is go to the little girls’ room and bingo: adventure. And I don’t even mean the type of facility that offers you a hole-in-the-ground affair so you can exercise your thigh muscles. (And then you slip, and end up with your leg inside, or you fall and . . . okay let’s not go there.)
No, just a nice clean ladies’ room can become the scene of a crisis. The story below took place when my mate and I lived in Ghana, West Africa, a place of many adventures. (Another bathroom story, set on another continent, will follow next week.)
A new restaurant has opened in town and my man and I are going to try it out for lunch. It’s in a new building and more construction is going on in the neighborhood.
We arrive and find only one other couple there, who seem to be enjoying themselves, their plates almost empty. The décor is modern and pleasing, and the tables are set with table cloths, proper cloth napkins and flowers, you know, nice. Okay. On with it:
We order food, we receive food, we eat food, and we like the food: the way it is supposed to go. Then, the way it is supposed to go, I must visit the facilities before returning home. Now home is not far away, but there is always the possibility of getting stuck in Accra’s traffic and that would not be good if my physical plumbing needed attention. My toilet philosophy is this: If there is one, use it. So off I go, knowing I will find decent sanitary fixtures in this nice new building.
And I do.
The amenities are down the stairs at a still-unoccupied level of the building. The ladies’ room has two stalls, all white, all clean, and there is even toilet paper! Okay, it’s plain white but don’t you just love this picture?
I enter one of the stalls, and try to close the door. I fail. The door does not quite fit in the opening in which it is meant to fit. It’s made of wood and the wood has warped. But no worries. With a jaunty hip swing I give the door a good shove and this does the trick. I lock the door.
After having made use of the nice white toilet, I flush like I was brought up to do and unlock the door. Unlocking works fine, opening the door does not. I pull, I yank, I pull, I yank. I sigh. My hip has done an excellent job of shoving the door closed. Closed to the point of jammed.
So I bang on the door. “Hello!” I yell. Now, I’m not a banging-and-yelling type of gal, so it takes me a bit of effort to do this with conviction and energy, but I’m a fast learner. When nothing happens, I give it my all. I bang that door with all my might and yell at the top of my voice. “Hello! Hello! Hello!” It sounds rather hollow in the large, empty bowels of the building. I can hear my words echoing back at me. Okay, that’s a lie. Still, all is very quiet down here. I pound some more and yell some more.
Certainly someone will hear me. Certainly someone else will come just to use the restroom. Wouldn’t you think? After all, there are waiters and waitresses and cooks and dishwashers and cleaners and other people in the restaurant and they all have bladders.
Nobody needs to pee. Ten minutes later, still nobody needs to pee.
I bang some more. I yell some more. I feel like a crazy woman alone in the dungeons. This is not good for my self esteem, so I give up.
I close the toilet lid (no one has broken or stolen it yet) and sit down to contemplate
my navel the situation. There is a small window high up on the wall, but I cannot reach it. There is no escape without outside help and the outside help does not need to pee.
Not having a reputation for spending much time sitting on toilets (I eat lots of fiber), I expect that my husband will soon come looking for me. Unless he’s engrossed in the International Herald Tribune, which he probably is.
To pass the time I study my surroundings more carefully. The nice white room has not been finished off with great finesse: no straight lines, no true corners, sloppy putty and sealants, sloppy painting. Well, so it goes. In Ghana these are mere details. From outside I hear the noises of the construction going on at the building next door. Jack hammering, pounding, sawing, music, yelling, and so forth.
Fifteen days minutes later and wouldn’t you think by now the husband would start wondering about my whereabouts? Yes, you would think that.
I consider the word bathroom, a euphemistic word Americans often use for a place like this. I think of all the different names I know: washroom, powder room, toilet, twalet, WC, the john, the loo, ladies room, lavatory, restroom.
Restroom indeed: I am resting. And resting. And resting. My fists are hurting. They will be black and blue by tomorrow. Tomorrow I may still be sitting here. Fortunately I have a toilet to use, which is a comfort.
And then it happens: I hear footsteps on the stairs. I jump up, start pounding the door again and yelling, forgetting about my self-image.
Someone shoves open the door for me. A waitress. She’s been sent to investigate by my patiently waiting husband. After twenty minutes. TWENTY MINUTES!!!
“The door was stuck,” I say, superfluously. She’s all spic and span in a white uniform and might actually be a nurse ready to take me to the insane asylum. She gives a little shrug.
“Yes, madame,” says she, “sometimes it be like that.”
NOTE: I’m told no one realized it was me banging on the door and screaming my head off; they thought they were just hearing the construction noises next door. (I sound like a construction worker?) However, it is now a marital ritual that when I go off into the wild yonder to enjoy whatever facilities are present, I give my mate a long, meaningful look and he will nod and say: “Five minutes.”
* * *
Have you experienced any toilet traumas, foreign or domestic? Surely you must. Do share and make my day! And don’t forget to come back next week for another one of my getting-trapped-in-the-bathroom adventures. Yes, it happened again.