I have a real thing for bathrooms. Always have had. Don’t know why. But there it is- the whole truth right on the table. When I was growing up (and even after I was married) I could not go to the bathroom in a public rest room if someone else was in the same room. This is no easy thing to live with I can tell you that! Therefore when I arrived in Burkina Faso and was introduced to the thrills and chills of the multi-bathroom experience I knew that I had a lot of changing to do!

In Burkina Faso there are no bathroom stops as you travel from place to place. In wide open space, the spot you choose becomes your toilet of the moment. In rainy season this is no problem as the trees have leaves and cover is provided but in dry season (which is most of the year) the terrain is pretty sparse.

One of our new couples on the field had a bathroom experience to remember soon after their arrival. The husband had gone up country with the moving truck and the wife and children were being driven up by the chairman of our field. Along the way, she needed to use the “facilities”. This was dry season so everything was brown and barren with the trees’ naked branches baking in the hot African sun.

The chairman stayed with the car and the children while she took her paper and began to walk looking for a nice private place to “meditate”. Finally she found the perfect spot ( and felt quite relieved ) however when she began the walk back to the car she realized that she had no idea in which direction to begin walking. As far as the eye could see the countryside looked the same-brown and dry and flat and barren. She was lost.

What do you do when you are lost in the desert? Beginning yelling of course! She began yelling the name of the chairman and as he heard her he began yelling back. This process continued until she finally found her way back to the car and the children. This story provided all of us on the field many hours of entertainment and at our first conference the new couple received many skits in their honor along with toilet paper and a portable toilet.

My first bush experience with a bathroom was on a ladies retreat soon after our arrival on the field. I had gone along with a veteran global worker who was showing me the ropes (given enough rope I usually hang myself). As evening began to fall, the village ladies arrived at the abandoned building we were staying in with large buckets of water on their heads. They took the first bucket and placed it inside a woven grass mat structure with a slanted cement floor. The woven grass mat (exactly as it sounds-dried grasses woven together to form a large flat mat) was tied to some cut branches which were planted into the ground to form a circle which made the “building”. I had to enter the building, strip down and hang my clothes on the “walls”- which promptly began to droop- and so did my courage at this point! While standing in this area I noticed that I could see everything through the small holes of the grasses which gives you the feeling that “if I can see out, can they not see in?” The bath is accomplished by splashing yourself with the water in the bucket using a gourd. Believe me, I took the quickest bucket bath in history!

The place where you shower is also where you urinate so you want to make sure that you don’t drop your towel, washcloth, or clothes on the floor! You also wear your flip flops the whole time as the conditions on the floor are not exactly what we call sanitary! For more serious needs you take a long walk into the woods (given the flatness of the countryside this can be some kind of walk!) or you drive yourself to a secluded area and hope no cow herder comes by while you are there.

One of our missionary kids was out in a village enjoying the bush bathroom when she was knocked off of her feet by a pig. This was a very unexpected interruption to say the least. When you are in the bush you have to constantly be on your guard- not a relaxing experience at all.

My most horrifying bathroom experience happened in a village we were evangelizing for the first time. We were greeted and then led into a very nice courtyard where we were fed supper by our host family. After supper I used the facilities in their yard which consisted of a three-sided mud brick building with no roof and a hole in the center of the cement floor. The hole in the center of the floor meant that this outhouse was a multi-purpose unit and could be used for all “needs”. For a bush village these were deluxe accommodations. The “outhouse” provided for some semblance of privacy and luxury as well.

Once the veil of darkness fell upon the village we began our open air evangelism campaign but part way through the service I had to once again use the “facilities”. It was then that I realized that I had forgotten my flashlight. I asked one of the pastors if I could borrow his and he gladly loaned it to me for my little private moment. This particular night was so dark that you could not see your hand in front of your face. Africa on a starless night can be the darkest place I have ever seen in all of my travels.

I entered into the deluxe accommodations and then discovered my dilemma: what to do with the flashlight while making use of the hole? If I placed the flashlight on the wall I could not see to find the hole and if I held the flashlight I could not manage my dress while busy. What to do? What to do?

Finally I thought that my only choice would be to place the flashlight in my mouth (yes I know that it was dirty!) and then be as quick as possible before I gagged. I did, and that decision was to be my grandest mistake!

I looked down to find the hole and when I did, the flashlight shone down into the dark abyss. Soon I was “busy” and at almost the same time thousands of giant cockroaches began pouring out of the hole having been disturbed by the light. I could not scream as the borrowed flashlight would fall into the hole- I could not stop-and I could not stand still. Soon I was dancing back and forth, stomping and tromping and shaking off the critters as they tried to crawl up my legs! It was a truly horrifying moment in my life!

Finally I was able to leave the “deluxe” facilities and leaned against the wall trying to compose myself. I began to shake at the thought of it all and then just as suddenly, I began to laugh simply filled with the humor of what had just occurred. I must have been a site to behold!

I’m sure that the people who were watching the beam of light dancing around and around in the dark must have wondered what in the world that crazy American woman was doing in the bathroom.


©2001 Thrive

View the original print magazine where this article was first published.