Thursday, July 8, 2010

i'm on a boat

The following story admittedly foul and probably the longest entry that I have written, but it’s my favorite to this point, and I hope you find reading it is worth the sacrifice of your time and potentially your appetite.

I spent the 4th of July on Banda Island, part of the Ssese Island chain just off the Ugandan coast of Lake Victoria. The only way to reach the island is by a three hour water taxi ride on what was basically an old, oversized canoe with an engine hardly fit for trawling.

There is no pier in which to board the boats, which remain tied just off shore. As I was working out in my head how I was possibly going to get on this thing without both exposing myself to schistosomaisis (a parasite found in nearly all stagnant freshwater bodies in Uganda) and getting my things completely soaked, a Ugandan man approached me, squatted next to me, and proceeded to sort of spin me around by grabbing the pocket of my jeans. Totally dumbstruck, I briefly considered telling the man, “yeah, they are Levi’s,” until, at that moment, he stuck his head in between my legs and stood up, hoisting me onto his shoulders. He then proceeded to walk me out into the lake and basically throw me on the boat.

Once on board, our spirits were very high. Somebody broke out their iPod and speakers, and we of course listened to Andy Samberg’s “I’m on a Boat”. A few others decided that rum and mango juice was appropriate considering the circumstances, and although I was inclined to agree, I didn’t partake due to the looming ride across what I could see were rough waters. As we waited to disembark, a few more people boarded the boat, all Ugandans. Then, we were off.

To call the ensuing trip a shit-show would be a severe understatement. Due to the high winds and choppy waters, it became apparent pretty quickly that our 3 hour tour would not bring us anywhere near our destination. After about two hours on the lake, things began to take a turn for the worse. From that point on, I saw things I had really never hoped to see, but this is Peace Corps, and unfortunately bodily functions are by no means sacred here.

Girl Devon (cleverly nicknamed to differentiate her from Boy Devon), along with a couple of the Ugandans, could no longer stomach the pitch and roll of the boat, and began vomiting. One might think that it is fairly obvious that the best course of action here would be to simply turn your head and do this overboard, and in Devon’s defense this was her chosen method, but such things were not so obvious to our local counterparts, who instead used buckets and bags that just sat, stinking, on the boat for the remainder of the journey.

Meanwhile, Boy Devon’s bladder of rum and mango juice had reached its limit. Not wanting to expose himself to everyone or take the risk of literally pissing into the wind with a boatful of people behind him, we cut open a 1.5 liter water bottle and let him do his thing. As he held up the nearly full bottle (amazing… I know), the look on some of the locals faces told me that we should probably be embarrassed, but to be honest, I was mostly just impressed.

Shortly thereafter, a friend next to me mentioned that she had stomach cramps (I am going to leave her name out of this one for reasons that will become obvious). In the middle of the lake, I knew her options were pretty much limited to one of the following: (A) Hanging her ass overboard; (B) Using a plastic bag/bottle in the middle of the boat; or (C) Jumping overboard and taking care of things there. When she spoke up again five minutes later, I came to the realization that there was in fact an option (D). “Guys,” she said, “I really need to go… and I actually kind of already did a little.” It was in the same instant that I smelled something and looked down to find that, to my horror, she had shat her dress and diarrhea was now spilling on the floor of the boat. I was quite literally frozen with a mixture of terror, nausea, and embarrassment on her behalf. I knew that I should do something to help out this girl that was obviously too sick to help herself out but I couldn’t. I just sat there with, what I was later told, a completely blank stare on my face.

Boy Devon had apparently missed the action to this point, but caught on that something was amiss when he saw my face. “Dude,” he whispered, “what happened? Did she pee her pants?” Still in too much shock to speak, I shook my head no. “She didn’t puke, did she?” I shook my head again. “Well, then… what did she… oh…. OHHHH!”

At this point Renee took over. The girl was surrounded by only me and the Ugandans, and it was apparent that neither parties were capable of lifting a finger to help. Luckily for everyone (myself most of all), Renee’s first move was to switch seats with me. She then proceeded to help the girl cut off her underwear with a knife and get her a plastic bag to contain the torrential flow of shit now being produced. The storm continued until we had run out of plastic bags, at which point Boy Devon passes up the pee bottle that he had now filled twice with urine and dumped overboard. I had done a good job of avoiding looking and staying as much out of the way as possible, out of both respect for the girl and my own well-being, but for some reason something caught my eye at the worst possible moment. It was one of the moments where you don’t even mean to look. It’s just a reaction. As I instinctively looked over I saw the former pee bottle, now filled to the brim with shit, being tossed overboard. What I saw then will be scarred in my memory forever… Even from upwind, it smelled something awful, but I can’t even imagine what the downwind Ugandans were going through.

While all of this was going on, Elizabeth had also had her fill of rum and mango juice, and decided that she would not be able to wait any longer. Wanting to avoid another embarrassing showing of bodily function, she cut the top off of a juice box (the only suitable receptacle not already filled and tossed into the lake) and had us put up a wall for privacy. Her plan would have probably worked had the boat not rocked violently in midstream, knocking her over and causing her to pee all over herself and in her pants.

The rest of the weekend went by without much event, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth remembering. We sat and relaxed on what was basically our own deserted beach, ate good food, read, drank a bit, enjoyed eachother’s company after months of isolation, and celebrated America’s independence in style. We even brought Jortstock to Uganda, which, for those of you who don’t know, is a theme party I used to throw in college with my housemates. It’s pretty similar to most college parties except it’s awesomer and everyone wears cut-off jeans shorts (or jorts). All in all, it was an amazing time.

The poor victims of this story recovered quickly, and despite our constant reminders to them about the events on the boat, took everything well in stride.


  1. I couldn't contain myself with laughter (though sadly at the misfortunes of your boat ride)
    p.s such a scholarly way of writing out events, like really Im impressed..

  2. Ha ha ha. I have never loved using my own imagination to formulate a picture of the written word more than with the boat ride story. Bravo (PS, this is Sean, not Emiliy)