Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Hippo Shit and Other Aspects of the Bush
“What’s that?” I said, pointing to some straw and mud gunk on the side of our Murchison Falls home.
“Hippo shit,” said H.M. firmly. “They flip their tails around when they shit, and it gets it all over the place.”
I hadn’t realized this when the hippo had walked past us on the verandah the night before. Usually, we just hear and smell the hippos, but last night the moon had been full and we’d watched as the hippo ate grass in our yard and then thudded its way past the bed. One night, the hippo had not thudded—it had delicately tipped past. We’d both worried that it was a person until a Nile hippo let loose with a echoing “ho ho ho.” Our yard hippo responded with two throaty grunts. No, that was not a person in the yard.
Hippo shit is just one aspect of African bush living that takes some getting used to. I also had to get used to barking that comes from antelopes, not dogs. And we had the challenge of rubbish disposal. Where do you put your trash? There’s no dumpster. Most of the houses have pits, and the workshop separates and burns trash. H.M. put our rubbish into workshop bins a few times only to turn around and find the rubbish already gone. Someone would grab it and go through it, hoping for some useful mzungu stuff that we’d foolishly thrown away.
People used to go through my trash in New York so this was not new to me. But in the park, everyone knew who we were and that this was our rubbish. It’s a little more than I really want people to know, plus I don’t want them rooting through old coffee grinds and rotten foods scraps. At least I had the foresight to switch from tampons to a re-usable silicone cup.
Composting isn’t really an option as it could draw baboons. The warthogs already get my pineapple scraps, but they eat them quickly. In the end, I kept food waste in a bag separate from other waste so at least whoever went through the dry stuff wouldn’t get too grossed out. Anything unmentionable got shoved deep into an empty UHT milk carton.
Many of the other challenges were fairly pedestrian: cold water showers, slow flushing toilet, termites, ants, the occasional snake or scorpion, mud, rain, an oven that took forever to light but I still succeeded in baking cookies for the laborers…working challenges were more unique. I had a job to do (several jobs to do, actually) on my laptop. In the morning and early evening, I’d zip along through the work. But with mid-day came the humidity and heat, and I’d crawl through the assignments.
One day I had to work well into the night to get work done for uploading as we were heading to town the next day. I was relieved when the temperature went down. Now I could really get some work done!
Unfortunately, the laptop screen is a beacon to all small flying insects. They were attacking and crawling all over my iBook. I tried hard to ignore them and color behind their many legs.
Finally, I lit two mosquito coils. One went by my feet and the other by the screen. This helped a little until the wind blew the smoke directly into my face.
I reached out to move the mosquito coil. A mosquito landed on my hand. I gave up. The work would have to wait.