As my husband and I prepared for a trip to Kenya and Tanzania, travel angst threatened to sideline me long before it was time to board the plane. I worried about eating strange food, sleeping in strange beds, and traveling with strangers; as well as falling victim to parasites, poisonous plants, and rampaging beasts. But the #1 thing that caused sleepless nights and fretful days was figuring out how to use the facilities …when there weren’t any.
Our itinerary included spending the nights in a succession of spiffy lodges, but the tour company brochure made a subtle reference to “occasional primitive conditions” during our daytime travels. I know bathroom code when I see it, and that phrase sent my anxiety meter soaring.
I am not outdoorsy and I don’t camp. I’m a small-town girl who grew into a city woman, and I’ve never relieved myself anywhere that didn’t feature porcelain and/or tile. On the rare occasions that I join people in outings that take us away from traditional restrooms, I’m always the one who risks dehydration by drinking as little as possible, and is still the first to bolt from the car when we finally get to a gas station.
It’s not that I haven’t tried. I just never developed that combination of strong thighs, good balance, and a relaxed bladder that allows other women to mosey behind a rock and take care of business as easily as guys do.
So when well-traveled friends recommended handy cardboard contraptions that, according to the catalogue description, “allow a woman the freedom to urinate in a standing position,” I thought I’d hit on the perfect solution. I didn’t consider the humiliation factor until I was actually on the phone, ordering item# ZD415.
“That would be the cardboard urination funnels, ma’am?”
“Uh. . .yeah.”
“Just one box…or, uh…gee, maybe two…I don’t know….”
“Where are you going?”
While I waited for my order to arrive, I crafted a little prototype out of a pantyhose package insert, and gave it a test run the privacy of my own bathroom. No luck. Considering the position, the act, and the prop…. it was as if my mind and body issued a stunned “You have to be kidding!” before completely refusing to cooperate.
When my two boxes arrived, I tucked them into the suitcase and hoped that the reality of those primitive conditions would spur me on to funnel victory. But when I found myself in the middle of the Serengeti, several hours after drinking milk and juice for breakfast, some speck of cave woman cellular memory floated to the surface. I retreated to a private spot deemed wildlife-free by our guide, lowered myself down gingerly, and victory was mine. The funnel never left my pocket.
“Wow! Look at me! I finally did it!” Like a kid who had just shed the training wheels, I was giddy with the sense of accomplishment, and couldn’t wait to share my news with John and every female member of the tour group.
For the rest of the trip, I relied on our comfortable indoor facilities at night, but during the day, I morphed into wilderness girl extraordinaire. Well-stocked with antiseptic wipes, tissues, and a funnel just for insurance – I boldly strode into the bush, or into dark, ramshackle structures that encased the inevitable, uninviting hole in the ground. As long as I had a funnel, I didn’t have to use it. Without one? I don’t even want to think about it.
It took a flying leap of faith to get me to Africa, and two little boxes of cardboard insurance to let me go with the flow once I arrived. That trip proved that an angst-ridden old dog can learn new tricks, and it broadened my vacation comfort zone by miles and miles. The great outdoors will never be my natural milieu, but I can go anywhere now, primitive facilities notwithstanding. Have funnels, will travel.