Prior to joining the Peace Corps, I had only left the United States a handful of times and each trip had been fairly comfortable. I never thought that I would live somewhere where comfort – as I knew it – would not exist. I was assigned to serve as an English teacher at a high school in the town of Mocuba, in the central region of Mozambique. I moved into a mud brick hut, a ‘payota’, that had palm leaves for a roof, sand for a floor, and windows without glass.
My site was situated so that other volunteers would pass through on their way to the provincial capital for meetings. It was always great when volunteers stopped for a visit. On one occasion, several friends who lived in the same province as I did, Zambézia, came by and asked if we could walk around the town. I thought “Hey, I can show them the beach!”. Mocuba is few hours away from the ocean and people generally didn’t believe me when I told them that there was a lovely beach in my humble little truck-stop of a site. The beach was dubbed the Praia do Beira, or the Biera Beach, by the people of my town and, to me, Praia do Beira was beautiful.
Charlotte, who was visiting that day, decided she was feeling adventurous and was up for the 45-minute walk to the beach. We headed out.
That’s when the trouble started.
“Gabe, are you feeling alright?” Charlotte asked. Apparently, I wasn’t looking too good and, to top it off, my bubble gut was making noises that meant tragedy was soon to strike.
“Charlotte was in awe of the beauty of the vista; I, on the other hand, was concentrating on other things – namely, the growing sensation that I was surely going to crap myself at any moment.”
“No, I’m fine” I replied. I didn’t want to walk back, especially before Charlotte saw Praia do Beira. We continued on.
When we reached our destination, Charlotte agreed that it was definitely worth the walk. There were palm trees everywhere and mini white water rapids flowed over a ridge of rocks in the river. A stunning view of hundreds of miles of pure, unadulterated Zambézia spread out in front of us. Charlotte was in awe of the beauty of the vista; I, on the other hand, was concentrating on other things – namely, the growing sensation that I was surely going to crap myself at any moment.
I had never pooed in public, let alone in front of a friend.
I wondered: Should I say something to Charlotte? Should I tell her I want to head back and let her know that she could meet me back at my hut whenever she was ready? Would she judge me in the same way I would (likely) judge and laugh at any of my friends in the same situation? I didn’t know what to do.
After a short while, we started to walk back. Well, Charlotte walked back. I clinched back, holding everything in for dear life. Then, the breaking point hit. I explained to Charlotte that something bad – something very bad involving my colon and any open space we could find – was going happen in the next few minutes. She laughed, then did the most surprising thing…
… she started scoping out good pooping spots for me!
No, too close to the road. No, those kids can see you from there. No, I think someone else already pooed there. Then we found it: the perfect spot. (Well, as perfect as the pressing situation would allow!)
What happened next does not need retelling.
“Leave everything that makes you comfortable behind! Eat new foods! Live in new places! Know that not everything will go as planned. Meet as many people as you can and make sure that at least one of those people can be trusted to be your perfect banana leaf finder.”
My time in Mozambique offered many great travels (and travel stories!) and many great friends. There were days when I thought that nothing could go right or that I would not be able to continue amid the suffering that surrounded me. That day, though – the day I pooped on the side of the road – taught me important lessons about life: everyone has bad days and not every journey is going to be simple. Most importantly, I learned about friendship – true, honest friendship. A true friend (or travel companion or adventure partner) isn’t merely someone who will stand by you as you poo yourself in a field; a true friend (or travel companion or adventure partner) is someone who goes and finds you the perfect banana leaf to wipe with.
So, leave everything that makes you comfortable behind! Eat new foods! Live in new places! Know that not everything will go as planned. Meet as many people as you can and make sure that at least one of those people can be trusted to be your perfect banana leaf finder.