To my dear sister,
As I promised, twenty-seven things I wish I knew before I moved to the bush bush:
1. Never flush anything down the toilet. Even if they tell you you can, they’re just being nice. Don’t do it. It all should go in a plastic bag to be burned later.
2. Learn to use the squatty potty. It makes life a whole heck of a lot easier. Trust me.
3. There are three reasons why we wear skirts all the time. One is because if you wear pants, most people will think you’re a prostitute. It’s true. (And if you’re trying to earn some credibility with the women, wearing pants won’t win you any points). Two is that skirts disguise all manner of sweat which you will find dripping from pores you didn’t even know you had, and are easily lifted when you ever so delicately need to sidestep mud puddles or other things encountered on the road. Three (see item number 2).
4. Keep your trash bucket by the door and NOT in your room. Otherwise you will be inviting many creepy crawly guests into your room also. In fact, the best plan is to suspend it from some string in order to keep away the ants also.
5. Ants are everywhere. Learn to tell them apart. This could save your life. Don’t worry about the tiny, tiny kind you may find in your bread, or the giant kind which make you wonder if they are really ants. It’s the medium-sized ones you have to worry about.
6. Always, always, always watch where you step. And learn to watch out for army ants. When they say they walk in a line, they really walk in a line. And yes, they really do bite. Don’t mess with them.
7. Snakes. Do NOT try to kill a snake on your own or determine what kind they are based on size or color. My best advice when you see a snake is to call for help. Africans are quite thorough in killing snakes. Leave it to them. And, by the way, they’re not always on the ground. They often live in trees and said snakes can climb over your house’s walls.
8. There are scorpions.
9. Doom will become your new best friend. The best strategy is to spray your bed’s feet before sleeping and do a general dousing of the room around 5:00pm. Do NOT spray the doom anywhere near lit candles. This can be disastrous.
10. If you happen to live in my old house, don’t mind the bees in the rafters. They only eat wood, which may make a mess in your house, but they don’t bite and cannot seem to be eradicated with any amount of Doom. Believe me, we’ve tried.
11. Tuck your mosquito net under your mattress always.
12. Burn your trash often. You MUST stay until it’s burned thoroughly. Otherwise the dogs will get into the trash and you may awake one morning to find your “unmentionables” strewn all over of the compound. Do NOT burn empty Doom cans. This also can be disastrous.
13. By the way, do not be alarmed if you see large fires in the vicinity. They somehow seem to have these under control, even if it doesn’t seem like it.
14. Oh and the quickest way to start a fire is with a plastic bag, albeit this is probably not the best for the environment.
15. Invest in a candle and some matches. This will be your friend when the solar generator runs out at night.
16. On that note, pee before it gets dark. Maneuvering toilet paper, flashlights and skirts whilst trying not to lose all these things in the squatty potty is quite tricky.
17. Toilet paper and hand sanitizer are things you must always carry in your bag. Your passport is something you must never carry.
18. The secret to brushing your teeth without water is to put toothpaste on your brush, take a chug of water (don’t swallow) and start brushing.
19. Moisture is a reality of life. Don’t keep all your stuff in your suitcase. It will become moldy and no amount of washing will get rid of that smell. Do keep your clothes covered with a cloth to keep off the bat poop. Bats are pretty harmless by the way. Books and papers will never be the same because of the humidity (that’s why everything is in plastic).
20. Keep your food inside a bucket with a tight lid and never, ever eat in your bed. The rats will find you.
21. A few cups of hot water added to your cold water, make a bucket bath a lot more pleasant. And always keep a little water at the end of your bath to rinse your feet. Walking from the shower house to your room in wet shoes without getting your feet covered in dirt again is a trick you will have to master.
22. Eat the food. You will learn to like it, maybe even love it. I promise.
23. Mango juice is amazing. Passion juice is even better.
24. Church is a long affair. Either escape just before the sermon or buckle in for the long haul. Four hours on a wooden bench listening to a sermon without translation is best faced with a window seat in which you can lean against the wall when your back gets tired or entertain yourself with the view.
25. Do go to school with the kids. It’s an experience you will never forget. You will also be the honored guest. In fact you are an honored guest many places you go and may be called upon to make an impromptu speech at any time. Best be ready.
26. Always wait a few rings before you answer your phone. “Missed calls” are not meant to be answered. They’re just the African way of saying “Hi, I was thinking of you, but don’t want to spend the money to call you.” Answering too soon may make them angry.
27. Learn to just “be” with people. They don’t need you to do anything for them, they won’t remember any eloquent words you say and don’t have much use for any fancy gifts you can bring. The only thing they will remember is you. Give them yourself, your time, your laughter, your smile. Spending a whole afternoon lying on a blanket chatting with the girls or cooking chapattis or just sorting beans is OK. In the end, the success of your time there, won’t be measured in how much you did but in how much you loved. So love much.