The Tankard Toilet

Few things appear to highlight my travel experiences as much as… well, frankly toilets.

Day three of apartment searching and shopping in Nairobi takes me on a mental journey of toilets as Eunice and I head to the ladies’ room at a well-known restaurant frequented by local Kenyans called The Tankard. It is at the entrance to the bathroom stall that I am thrust into reflection. In fact, that reflection takes me since childhood where the toilet topic has plagued me. Our family would pile into the family wagon for 600 mile trips from El Paso to Dallas, Texas, or road trips camping in the mountains far away from the desert, and my precious Dad not knowing better, would allow us sodas for the trip. Dr. Pepper seemed an unusually difficult diuretic for me and I spent much of those road trips in bladder distress. As a small girl, I refused to just stop on the side of the road, perform and air dry. Nope. And as a parent, mom and dad take note, I get it….. what a pain to have to continually find an accommodating toilet in the middle of nowhere.

So, it isn’t surprising that as an adult, toilets continue their theme in my traversing the globe as it were. Fast forward to Cairo, Egypt spring of 1998, as Hakim and I are venturing out one morning for a day of sightseeing, and that terrible and familiar urge hits. We stop at the famous mosque there and I am not able to go inside because I am not Muslim. There are bathrooms located on the outside of the building but they are either locked or broken and I am denied permission to enter those either. The arm hairs stand on end and Hakim, like my dad before him, begins the daunting process of finding an accommodation, but unlike my father, he is blessed with my willingness to use a tree or whatever we can find because I have done some growing up a bit! But this is Egypt and trees are nothing more than a figment of people’s imagination or photos in a book. We end up in the bowels of a colorful Egyptian neighborhood, dirt streets and all, with Hakim pressuring a “chemist” to allow me their facility since I have terrible diabetes and the urge hits unexpectedly in such patients. Yeah, ok, whatever works. It worked. I climbed the 4000 year old tile stairs (I wish I had the presence of mind back then to take a photo) and found a tile room with what stood for a toilet…. a pipe hole in the floor and no paper. It was the greatest pipe hole I have known.

Most recently, in traveling with our Thai friends on a road trip of the National Parks, we all began noticing the inordinate number of toilets on the roadside. Toilets were everywhere and in a variety of colors, but always something upon which to perch.

Reflection complete, I am in the moment staring into the stall of the women’s toilet at The Tankard restaurant on Ngong Road in Nairobi, Kenya, 2012, and I see what can only be described as an upscale Egyptian hole in the ground.

Yes Nairobi, you have christened me at The Tankard. Click on the orange words here for a video clip! Tankard Toilet


A lot of things are different here in Kenya. Hakim once told me that lions do not cry in Africa. It is a hard place. This should be a better story, but it is early in the morning. Still, a lot of things are vastly different in Kenya. For example, I was so certain when I awoke a bit ago that I had slept through the night until 4 or 5 am, but upon checking the time, it was 1:11 am. Many things certainly are different.
Take mushrooms for example…. they appear the same, however, they apparently grow out of the floor of the apartment we were scheduled to use for 2 weeks upon our arrival. Here is a photo for the visual. I deleted my photos accidentally. We had traveled 35 hours, exhausted from the Colorado process and the move, and instead of finding a place to lie down, we find a moldy, decrepit serviced “apartment” at a supposedly upscale hotel, broken windows, electrical sockets pulling out of the wall, a wall desk pulling out of the crumbling plaster, moldy floors, a horrid smell and … “Hey mom, what’s that? Is that a mushroom growing out of the floor? Mom, seriously, MUSHROOMS GROWING IN THE FLOOR?!” The boy was traumatized for life. Fortunately, knowing ourselves well, Hakim and I realized long ago the potential for this precise thing and made sure the boy had a combo college/therapy fund available for just such trauma. Someone suggested that the mushrooms provided dinner vegetables and to go with it.
Yes, mushrooms were growing from the wood parquet floor.
Eunice to the rescue…. validating that the facility was very rundown and not to expect such a thing. I even cried it was so bad, and lionesses do not cry in Africa!
Other things are different in Africa. Heinze ketchup reportedly tastes nothing like American Heinze ketchup. Quesadillas are a version of a white cheese melted between two layers of Kenya flat bread (the name escapes me). You know you have seen a butcher’s window when you see hind quarters handing from a hook, tale and all. You know you are in the presence of a pharmacist any time you see “chemist on site” signs. I cannot help but think of the old alchemist visual. Look it up kids. In Africa, sim cards provide the bulk of our communication ability… sim cards for the phone, the Samsung tablet, the computer…. all paid for by credit for MB or GB. Yes, and so Skype will be limited because a single conversation may cost $100 or more. You know you are in “real” Kenya at the point where the pavement stops. More on the pavement when I fully absorb our day of apartment hunting and our amazing experience at the Kibaria neighborhood yesterday. The pictures are accidentally deleted so I am in mourning.
A day of apartment searching yesterday became memorialized by my request to the landlords that I not be given mushrooms in my floor!! All parties appropriately humored me, but I kid you not, upon entering the hotel last night, the desk clerk who had originally checked us in asked me curiously why I was not in the apartment side of the hotel any longer. I suspect no one ever goes over there, ever, much less to pick mushrooms for dinner!

Three Villages

I am amazed how much effort and how many villages it took to get us out of dodge. We have the best friends any people could have, and this process has allowed so many of them to get to know others of them. I humbly thank each one of you. I don’t even know how to express my appreciation…but trust me I’m working on it!

I feel a certain responsibility to succeed in a world where many dream but few set out. The fear and potential stupidity keeps us in check. For some reason I am no longer in check and only time will tell whether this was ill advised or wise. It is not what we do with the past that matters so much as what we do from it now. That should be a t-shirt slogan for sure. Acting comes in small and big ways, but always seems to have a big impact.

Go forth and act… act well, but act. 🙂