This is where I go to the bathroom in Yembering. A hole in the ground, with some bricks built around it, behind my house. The door on the right is my "private" latrine, to which only I have the key, and the door on the left is the latrine that the Guinean teachers use when they are at work. As you may be able to guess, the structure is not animal-proof.
This is what I found lurking in my latrine one morning this week: a bushrat. I opened the door, and he was huddled in the corner staring back at me. It scared me half to death. I immediately alerted my principal, who fetched some students. As I looked on in horror, the students killed it by hitting it with a stick. They seemed to enjoy themselves while doing so. When the creature was dead, my principal picked it up. I snapped a photo, and then he chucked the corpse over the compound wall.
I dread going to the bathroom. When will I meet another bushrat there, or worse yet, a snake? Although the people of Yembering share my fear of snakes, they don’t understand my fear of bushrats. Bushrats are completely unaggressive, my principal tells me, so what exactly am I afraid of? I don’t know, it’s a giant rat! Isn’t that just inherently terrifying and repulsive? The stuff of nightmares? Apparently not, or at least only for crazy white people.
There are many reasons why I am not cut out for village life, including my fear of critters such as giant bushrats. When I arrived in Guinea in September 2010, I was ready to go back to Gueckedou, the large city that was originally supposed to be my site. I knew I had a nice house waiting for me there, with a real, indoor, ceramic toilet. It doesn’t seem intuitive that you can have a toilet like that without indoor plumbing, but it turns out that you can, it just involves gathering buckets of water with which to flush. Alas, Peace Corps refused to send volunteers back to the Forest Region of Guinea, because it was too far away and isolated. It was ok when there were 75-100 volunteers in country. Nowadays, with fewer than 15 volunteers, they didn’t want to spread the volunteers out so thinly (for security measures, in case of the need for a quick evacuation). If you were wondering why my site was changed, there’s the reason.
So no nice indoor toilet for me. For the rest of my time in Africa, it looks like I’m stuck with this outdoors latrine. I’ll just have to watch out for visitors such as cockroaches, spiders, lizards, frogs, bats, and, of course, bushrats.