(Alice K. is an artist, storyteller, and solo world traveler. She tells tales of everyday life, her wildest adventures, and how to find humor in situations where there appears to be none. You can follow her on twitter here, or on instagram at @oh.hello.alice)
In Haiti, most activities are community events. You know, like family gatherings, going to the market, attending church or Voodoo ceremonies… and taking trips to the toilet.
At least that was the case during my stay with my host family in La Vallée-de-Jacmel, Haiti. My Haitian family spoke Haitian Creole, and the only other language I speak is mediocre Spanish (at best) after taking 4 years in high school. Once I arrived, I immediately regretted making fun of the kids who took French. My knowledge of Haitian Creole can be summed up to the few words that really stuck after making homemade flashcards weeks before my trip. After all, nothing prepares you for meaningful conversations in another language like the word for bathroom written in Sharpie on the back of a receipt.
So seven people picked me up from the airport and I quickly realized that I would have to resort to a lot of smiling, nodding, and hand signals which may or may not have resembled the Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Man. It was all fun and games until we got home and I had to ask to use the toilet. And I say toilet, because it was an actual toilet. I had been to Haiti before and had nothing but a hole in the ground which was fine by me, but this was an unexpected and pleasant surprise.
Little did I know that, just like the airport pickup, a trip to the toilet was a community event. Mama had to yell for “THE KEY!” to unlock the outhouse, then Grampa had to yell that he couldn’t find the key. So Sister would help look while Brother filled up the bucket of water for the plumbing. Then, both Littlest Brothers would kick my feet and ask why I had to use the toilet while Gramma escorted me down the pathway to find the key that is always in the same exact place. It’s clearly an eight person job.
When I finally got the coveted key, it was like a damn parade. My entire host family insisted on carrying my personal bucket of flush water and escorting me to the toilet. At first it was all so fancy. I felt like Cinderella getting dressed by birds and deer before traveling in a pumpkin to the Royal Ball, until I realized that eight people would be sitting outside waiting to help me flush my poo down the drain. There was nothing royal about this experience.
When I was finished on the grand commode, I went outside to get the bucket so I could wash the toilet water down the drain. Mama insisted on doing it herself (either to be nice or because she thought I was incapable of doing it on my own), which will continue to be one of the great unsolved mysteries of my life.
Although it was very kind of her to help, I didn’t particularly want or NEED her help. You see, I had eaten plane food for the last two days and ordered coffee like an idiot because everyone knows you don’t order coffee on an airplane, so the outhouse smelled like an overflowing Port-a-Potty that had been left in the sun for seven thousand years. If we weren’t family before, we were definitely family after. Thanks again, Mama.
So after our first successful(?) family bathroom outing, I was determined to try to convince them without words that I was a strong independent woman, capable of getting the key, filling a bucket, walking fifteen feet to the outhouse, and pouring water down the toilet to flush my shit. You know, what most people are trying to prove nowadays. It wasn’t working. I needed another approach.
I figured I’d try a stealth operation to get the key, but once I set foot in the room where it hung, I’d hear THE KEY! from across the courtyard. After the first yell, each member of the family and whoever was visiting at the time would yell THE KEY! as well. It was like a twisted game of telephone alerting the masses that I needed to relieve myself. Each time, I insisted as best as I could that I could do it myself. I would go to the spout to fill up my bucket and someone would grab it out of my hands and do it themselves. But I was still determined, that one day, I would be able to poo in peace.
I’m not sure if there was an actual turning point or if my stubbornness of trying to prove my independence was slowly working, but either way, each trip to the loo had a smaller and smaller crowd. It was working! I was free to use the toilet in peace!
Slowly, week after week, I started to miss the company. Where was my family cheering for me on the sidelines as I went poo? Where were my friends walking with me to make sure I made it the whole fifteen feet safely? I began to long for the days when my family escorted me to the toilet. It was like a part of me had moved on and left a poop-emoji-sized hole in my heart.
I had an idea.
After six weeks of poo parties, it was time for me to head home. I knew from that day on, I would miss my cheering section and that my bathroom experiences would go back to being normal and boring and that my life would never be the same.
I saw Grampa sneak off to the outhouse so I gathered the family and the town doctor who was visiting that day to wait outside quietly. Once Gramps walked out, I signaled to everyone to cheer as loudly as they could. We were yelling and laughing and jumping and dancing around Grampa. It was a party! I had started a new tradition. Every day after, we all had a reason to celebrate.
But hey, at least there’s FaceTime.