In May 1999 I took part in a volunteer mission with a non-profit organization called Airline Ambassadors. My BFF Anne was a flight attendant for American Airlines. She signed us up with three other friends, making up a total group of 26 flight attendants and friends to trek through the Himalayan region of Nepal, delivering medical and school supplies to orphanages. Being an over-preparer for trips, I went trail running twice daily to ensure that I was in the best shape possible. I also bought extensive camping supplies, including iodine tablets for water, to prevent any type of water-born illnesses.
I’d be damned if I was going to get sick on this trek. Anne and I put the iodine tablets in our Nalgene bottles daily, making sure to only use that special water to drink and brush our teeth with. The porters even assured us that all the water they cooked with was boiled for purification, guaranteeing us further safety. But what we did notice, was that the porters washed our dishes in stream water, which was not filtered.
As you can imagine, within the second day of our trek, I was cursed with some type of stomach bug. I felt like I was dying and wanted nothing more than to curl up in bed in front of TV. Yet I was thousands of miles east of California and thousands of feet high above sea level, with what appeared to be the worst case of flatulence and diarrhea I think my body had ever experienced.
We began trekking one morning and I desperately tried to empty out my bowels in the camp outhouse. Much to my chagrin, one hour into our massive uphill jaunt, my stomach began to cramp and I knew something wicked this way cometh. I asked our guide when we were stopping next for a rest with a toilet. “One hour” he said. Anne and I looked at each other in panic.
I began to sweat and it wasn’t from the Himalayan heat. Chills were swarming all over my body. I felt like that guy in the movie Alien, where he knows something extremely evil is about to split his body in half. I kept looking for a tree or a rock that I could squat behind, but we were on a dirt trail about three feet wide, on the side of a steep mountain. I had to take deep breathes as an attempt to stay calm, like in those Lamaze classes, and pray that whatever was brewing inside could wait.
Two hours later, we stopped in a small village. They had a tiny convenient shack that sold warm Coke and Orange Fanta, and one outhouse that was smack in the middle of the village. Now let me begin by saying that the Nepali outhouses are not like porta-potties you see in a state park, with a locking door, toilet seat and hand sanitizer. These were more like a dark hole dug deep in the earth, covered with an old wooden shack measuring 4×4. It had a putrid smell to it that made you gag, with flies swarming around and a bucket of water to “flush.”
Kelly and Anne said they’d make some commotion outside to mask any foreign noises that might emit from me. I was shy about displaying bodily functions in public. When I was in 7th grade at La Reina Catholic Girls’ School, I was too embarrassed to pee in the school restroom. So I’d wait till the bell rang for class as the bathroom emptied. I was mortified to let anyone hear me pee. And God forbid I had to do anything else. I always came up with some type of explanation for my teacher as to why I was late for class. I was a bad liar, and sometimes I had to serve detention after school.
Back on the trail, my innards were churning. It was like coffee percolating. I took one last look at Kelly and Anne, shrugged my shoulders and said “Oh well, here I go!” as I opened up the door, held my breathe, and latched it behind me. I put my feet on each side of the hole and kept my head up, so I wasn’t tempted to look down. “Oh God” I said to myself. I wanted to cry. I could barely pull my pants down around my ankles fast enough before the mysterious matter began its exit strategy from my bowels; coming out of me like Niagara Falls. It was such a release. I felt better instantly. But it kept pouring out as my ass cheeks were flapping with flatulence.
Anne was outside laughing hysterically at my public display of bodily functions, which made me laugh out loud, which made the shit come out even faster. I could see Kelly through the wooden slats, she was bent over dry heaving at my foul stench. And just like that, I had entered a new arena of peeing, going numbers two AND three, in public.
As I sat there, squatting in shame, a bumble bee the size of a golf ball buzzed in through a door slat and began circling me. I shrieked in horror at the top of my lungs, and stood up with lightening speed, pants still around my ankles, warm mung running down my legs. I busted through the shack door and ran outside aimlessly swatting around me to keep the bee away. Anne and Kelly gasped in disbelief as I stood there, bottomless, my legs streaked with brown drippings. They quickly covered me up with their bodies and arms. Anne was bent over laughing so hard, she was gasping for air and crying with tears in her eyes. “Fuck you!” I screamed, laughing myself. Kelly had to walk away to keep from dry heaving at my smell and sight. Finally Anne reached in her backpack and pulled out a handful of baby wipes. “Here Woods, go wipe your ass and legs off, would ya?”
Dishonored, I walked back into the decrepit outhouse, covering my nose up with my bandana. Now the fresh smell of death was coming from me! “Your mom would be so proud,” Anne let out through her constant giggling. I finished my business, cleaned my legs, my hiking boots and pants off as best I could with the wipes, and cleaned my hands with a huge squirt of sanitizer.
I came outside and our group began applauding. “Thank you very much, I’m here all week!” I said as I gave the audience my best ballet bow. I just had to own it. Saying “That wasn’t me” clearly wouldn’t work this time. Needless to say, I was the butt of all jokes for the remainder of our trip and that one episode is still talked about amongst my flight attendant friends.
Now, whenever anyone asks about my most embarrassing moment, a sheepish grin takes over my face, like the joker in Batman. Most would never suspect! If I’m having a bad day or feeling down, I think of my time in the Nepali outhouse and it continues to make me laugh. As for doing any type of bodily function in public, I’ve become much more relaxed with my body’s potential actions.
Anne bought me the book Everybody Poops for my birthday that year and it’s become my bible. I now know I’m not alone. I look back to when I was a Catholic school girl, and can’t believe how shy I was in the girls’ restroom. Now I’ll just about do anything anywhere, if necessary.