[ Kot Village, Bhojpur District, Nepal – June 6, 2013]
It’s mid-June. Early summer. Monsoon. I’m living in an area of eastern Nepal between the high Himalaya to the north, and the low-lying Terai—snaking along the Indian-Nepali border to the south. The viridesence is obscene. Smells of rain and clay, chlorphyll and rotting wood choke the air. Everything grows, and grows quickly.
Scattered throughout this abundant fertility are homes and barns and shops and schools fashioned from rich red soil and hints of whitewash, assembled over bamboo and raw timber frames. Thatched roofs provide shelter from the daily squalls, keeping everyone dry and cool. Tables, shelving, stairs and ladders, wooden windows and doors are likewise crafted from the surrounding forest’s plenty. Here, in the midst of Eden, one of these doors is mine.
Like many doors in Nepal, my door is built in two horizontal halves. Hinged at the lintel, the upper half-door pivots inward and upward, secured by a hook to the ceiling when open. Four rough-hewn slats stacked in a slotted doorjamb serve as the door’s bottom half. This setup is surprisingly versatile, its primary downside being creaky, grinding, wood-on-wood loudness. Operating the door is noisy, and ill-suited to the continued slumber of my hosts—dozing a few feet away beyond a woven bamboo partition and thin clay wall.
During the night, my eyes open onto the pitch blackness of an unknown hour. Lying on my side, half awake in the silence, an unpleasant pressure below my stomach makes itself known. It’s slight, building slowly, but I’m comfortable—too lazy to get up. I roll gingerly onto my back. It’s enough. Dreamless sleep returns.
The humans beyond the wall are my Nepali family, the Shrestha clan. Patient and generous, Punya and Gaanga Devi run the household and its extensive farm—perhaps the strongest, most competent people I have ever met. Their two gregarious children, twelve-year old Shrejowal (“Caesar”) and eight-year old Alisha, are my near-constant companions when they aren’t in school or doing chores. Ganesh Kumari, the family matriarch, lives upstairs in an adjacent building. I was sent here by Punya’s younger brother—a shopkeeper in Pokhara—to teach English in the local school and fully immerse myself in the traditional, rural Nepali lifestyle. According to the locals, I am the only Westerner ever to visit this village.
Halfway through my planned stay—mind suitably blown, btw—I have waged a ten-day, gory, take-no-prisoners battle with diarrhea, emerging victorious (and ten pounds lighter). My hard-working friends are shell-shocked and exhausted, collateral damage in my never-ending, nocturnal skirmishes with the clinking, clacking wooden portal standing between me and the outdoor toilet.
My bladder, bulging like a birthday clown’s balloon-art dachshund, has me hovering on the verge of consciousness once again, animal brain contemplating the steps required for relief. Slumber’s protective cocoon muffles the piercing discomfort, while gently falling rains sing a lullaby outside the door. I have no wish to wake fully, to contemplate or expend the energies required to meet my body’s demands. I’ll make noise, won’t I? Inconsiderate, friend-waking noise? Haven’t I already inflicted enough grief? Is it really that bad, you pampered little child?! Maybe just shift a bit…like…yes…like that? Thoughts hazy wondering what time what time can it be isn’t it late I mean early, it’s early surely light soon so maybe you can just I can just until it’s time for you to get up I can sleep…until…then? Then (“then-Then” “then-Then” “then-Then”) you can—I can—(“you can-I can” “you can-I can”)…use…the toilet (“then-Then, you Can, use The toilet”) insteazzzzz…
Though intestinal hostilities have ended, the cease-fire remains at risk, threatened in the wee hours by inadequate bladder volume. Impervious to control via fluid intake regimes and machinations, I awaken nightly with a need to go now. Fortunately, there’s a common solution to this problem in parts of the world where the toilet is outdoors: a chamber pot. Determined henceforth to protect my hosts’ precious nighttime slumber, I resolve to obtain one. (A Pot to Piss In.) But how? Any request I make will involve rather lewd, easily misconstrued hand gestures and a limited Nepali vocabulary (words like “go,” “water,” “night,” and “full”). I decide to forego this ego-bruising game of charades (The Potty) and re-purpose my 900ml water bottle instead—a local brand in a squat, squarish bottle called Himalayas OnTop.
Until today, this bottle has been consistently filled with Jiban Jaal (“Life Water”)—the local, generic, orange-colored and -flavored rehydration salts available throughout Nepal. I drink one or two liters each day, but the bottle is now empty, ready for use, safely tucked between bed and wall, somewhere below my right foot.
Muted sounds of light rain soothe the beautifully cool post-dawn morning. The family is awake—I can hear them going about their morning chores as I crawl out of my sleeping bag, dress, and unlatch the door. I descend the red clay steps, traverse the central yard, passing goats and chickens and drying laundry, reach the neighboring outhouse. In a matter of seconds, this intensely unpleasant pressure will be gone. I enter through the toilet’s bamboo door, close it behind me—already unfastening my belt. Anticipating blissful, delicious relief I take aim, but…wait…something’s not right. I heard noises…didn’t I?…so where was everyone? and when did they paint this toilet yellow and why? and where were the sailboats on the lake? Wait…lake?! Aw, shit! I’m dreaming, dammit! Stop now or wake up in a pool of your own…No!…but it would feel so wonderful, so nice to…No! STOP NOW!
Alisha Shrestha has shockingly blue eyes. Deaf since birth, she is obstinate, strong as a Nepali bison, and prone to temper tantrums. She examines everything hands-on: touching, tasting, shaking, smelling. I’ve nicknamed her the Blue-eyed Devil. We have a special bond. The other villagers constantly talk at me, in a rapid-fire barrage of linguistic tokens I can neither parse nor decipher. But this eight-year old girl has spent her entire lifetime communicating non-verbally. Neither of us can speak the language that surrounds us, so we spend hours pointing at things, gesturing, playing games, making jokes, slowly evolving our own language.
My mornings often begin with her rattling the door until I unlatch it, emerging into the new day. After my first cup of spiced black tea and warm milk, she climbs into the room and we share my desk—me memorizing Nepali vocabulary or writing in my journal, her doing homework or drawing.
Snap to, abdomen screaming, system limits exceeded, kegel muscles burning—straining to control the crush of fluid seeking escape. Dream over. Disaster imminent. I struggle to sit, kidneys churning out ever more liquid, flipping me off, laughing. Feel along edge of bed to wall. Reach down between wall and bed’s foot, smacking forehead on wall. (Stifle grunt). Find bottle. Extract. Untwist cap. Pressurized vapor escapes with a “PSSSsssssss!” Desperate, effectively blind, in agony, every motion threatening to release Noah’s flood, I have perhaps FIVE seconds before hands and thighs and sleeping bag and bedding are swept up in foaming waves of Old Testament carnage. In inky blackness I slide ass to bed’s edge, slip the lower lip of the bottleneck between left hand’s index and middle fingers, (FOUR) unwrap the relevant bits with right hand, blindly docking an overstressed urethra to a small plastic circle sized to punish the slightest targeting error. Still worse, all this (THREE) excessive pressure has given me a standard, early morning erection—i.e. the improvised drainage contraption is upside down so I’ll be pissing up into the bottle, straight at the ceiling. Gravity contraindicates this orientation (TWO). Struggling to my feet, legs spread as wide as limited space and underwear allow, I bend forward at the waist trying to angle the bottle slightly below the (ONE) horizontal, whacking my forehead again, hard, against the edge of the unseen table. Shit! It has to be good enough has to because I can’t can’t CAN’T hold it in any longer and everything releases then, all at once, full force. (ZERO!) There’s a steady, mid-range, roaring “pssssssssssssss” against the bottle’s interior, but I can’t feel any errant drizzle—the seal is holding; my aim was true.
There is an instant of bliss—of perfect, near ejaculatory release, of blinding pleasure—before the frantic computations begin: is the capacity of a human bladder greater than, less than, or equal to 900ml? If bottle capacity reaches 100% before bladder contents reach negligible psi levels, what then? I try to slow down, give myself time to think. My fingers are at the bottle’s neck: can I sense the warm fluid through the plastic? If so, can I stop (or try to stop) before Himalayas OnTop becomes Urine AllOver? Pressure subsides ergo erection weakens ergo I can slowly unbend at the waist, still blind, listening to the filling bottle’s rising pitch. The warmth nears my fingers (I can feel it!) and briefly I fear the worst, but soon it’s over. I’ve won. Success.
I return the bottle to its corner hideaway, beyond relieved. Literally.
Sometime later, I awaken bathed in dawn’s faint orange-gray glow. A devilish blue eye peers through the bamboo partition, watching me, rhythmically clicking and clacking the door latch, chanting. The eye wants in.
Sitting up groggily in my sleeping bag, I signal her “just a minute, I’ll get up.” The eye disappears. I dress, open and latch the top half of the door, and brush my teeth. The eye returns, attached to Alisha. Leaning against the lower half-door, notebooks in hand, she signs a request to enter, I say OK. We play a few rounds of Thumb Wars as I finish my tea, but soon I’m lost in thought, writing, trying to capture the hysteria and panicked discomfort of last night’s excretory emergency. The Blue-eyed Devil sits next to me, copying and recopying the English alphabet in alternating colors from my pen collection. While trying to show me her third attempt at “G,” she drops a pen (red) on the floor, and disappears from sight.
In slow motion she re-emerges, a bottle in her hand. The label sez Himalayas OnTop, its color orange-yellow, looking for all the world like the bottle of Jiban Jaal that’s been on my desk for the past ten days. I panic. Hesitate.
She reaches for the lid.
Twists it free….