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Some days you’re the superhero humanitarian, bravely casting starfish back into the sea with ample aplomb and tireless dedication. Other days, you’re yelling at small children and wounding yourself through your own grave ineptitude. I tend to blog more about the former sort of day than the latter. But one day I had of late was so very, well, schadenfruedic, that I can’t help but share. It’s pretty hilarious in retrospect, although was less so in the moment.

It had been one of those days that’s known to every PCV or indeed, anyone who’s ever held a job that challenges them daily and pushes them to the limits of their intellectual plane. The kind of day that leaves you hollow and spent, as though the very marrow had been drained from your bones. I was looking forward to going to the beach, sitting at the edge of the water, and watching the sky soften to dusk over the ocean. Quiet contemplation is how I recharge after such days. But this day … that wasn’t in the cards.

First, I had to go home and change. I had attended a formal meeting that day, so I wore my nicest outfit and fancy new sandals to look very smart. Unfortunately, said sandals left my feet COVERED in raw, bleeding blisters, so as soon as I left work I beelined for home to throw on comfy flip-flops. As soon as I rounded the corner, I was greeted by the sight of my landlord staring fixedly at my door, as though he was hoping to melt it with laser vision. He heard me approach and turned quickly.

“Dadangu, I am so glad you’re back,” he said quietly. “Please unlock your house. I think you have a problem.”

It was in this moment that I noticed the water pouring out from the crack under my door.

I opened it to find that my kitchen tap was running, my sink was overflowing, and everything but the back half of my bedroom (where my books were, thank God) was under an inch of water. He set about fiddling with the tap while I kicked off my now-soaked good shoes and waded into the muck, broom in hand to start pushing the water out the front door. EVERYTHING was drenched – clothing, newspapers, boxes, food I’d had on the floor, jerry cans, etc etc etc. My landlord got the water shut off momentarily and fetched the plumber, who quickly noted that the handle was loose (and apparently sentient to boot) with the ability to flow or not at will. Was it off for now? Yes. Could they pinpoint the problem? Not exactly. Could they assure me it wouldn’t happen again? Well … no, but my neighbor Lily had my key, right? So if it happened again while I was in Nairobi training for two weeks they could shut it off again, right?

That’s the hope, I guess.

They left, and I set myself to the task of emptying my house of water. Cockroaches, ants, and other creepy-crawlies flushed from hiding by the torrent lazily back-stroked across my living room as I worked my best flood control. The floor is cement, making it extremely slick when wet, and I slipped on multiple occasions. I somehow managed not to fall but in my balance-seeking flailings I kicked over my kerosene stove, adding liquid paraffin fuel to the bug-and-backwash swamp. My blisterific feet just loved that, let me tell you.

About 15 minutes in, the force of my cleaning fervor overcame the tensile strength of my broom handle and it snapped in half in my hand. Of course, in the process, it opened an inch-long gash on my right palm (hooray for wound closure strips in our government-issued medical kits!) This brings our running total to: brackish tapwater, cockroaches, kerosene, and blood. This was about the time I was beginning to think this wasn’t funny anymore.

I scooped up a pile of sopping laundry from one corner of my living room and discovered I had a squatter living beneath it: a centipede in excess of ten inches in length. I don’t mean millipede – the kindly, round, zillion-legged omnivores that occasionally take up residence on my bedroom ceiling. No, this was the venomous, swift, be-striped tropical monster dreamed up by a horror film director on acid. It clacked its vile pincers menacingly and scuttled down the sleeve of a sweater I was holding. With as much dignity as you can imagine such a situation might have, I flung the jumper out the front door and into the yard, shrieking like a fiend was coming after me with a hot poker. Which isn’t terribly far from the truth, in arthropodian terms. According to google, the pain of a centipede’s bite can yield pain beyond reckoning, for which opiates are sometimes prescribed.

It took me a solid hour or more to get the water level manageable and to begin to deal with or dispose of the waste the flood had created. On a trip outside with an armload of dripping Daily Nation newspapers, I saw my sweater still lying there. No centipede in sight. Was it gone for good? Or merely laying in wait for me to approach so it could drag me into its foul lair and devour me at will? I armed myself with the broken-off half of the broom handle and crept towards it.

It was still there.

I leapt into action, clobbering it with my stick o’ centipede clobbering, but to no avail. It kept racing for my door, trying to make it back to the relative safety of my laundry box. I chopped it in half and EACH HALF gamely continued its death-scuttle towards my home. “WHY! WON’T! YOU! DIE!” I howled at it, landing each blow with the combined force the day’s events had wrought on my psyche. Panting and disheveled, I had paused for a second in my task when I saw a small Kenyan child standing near me, staring wide-eyed and open-mouthed. “We don’t HAVE bugs like this back in New York!” I whined in loud Swahili, an unfamiliar tinny desperation creeping into my voice. “The bugs are small there! They don’t want to hurt you! And they die when you hit them! It’s completely different!”

I dropped my stick. He kept staring, then cautiously approached me and laid a small hand on my arm. “Pole, dadangu,” he cooed, in the same voice you might use to soothe a spooked animal. I’m sorry, my sister. He stroked my forearm, his face sympathetic. “It was a bad bug.” He looked at the smashed mess of insect remains, long expired but still twitching. “A very bad bug. More like a little snake. But it’s dead now. You’re ok. I’m sorry, my sister. Very sorry.”

Great. I flip out on the one kid in my village who’s never done anything to deserve it, and he goes out of his way to comfort me. In case I didn’t already feel like a useless nutjob. I collect my stick and go back inside. I send two near-identical text messages to two of my closest friends in the Peace Corps, both of whom are on the opposite side of the country. I don’t remember the exact wording, but I believe the gist was along the lines of “HFOUNJHQONS;EGQEGLJNEGQJ ARRRRGH TODAY = FAAAAAIL WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH”. One responded immediately with the appropriate noises of sympathy, and I thought to myself, “Maybe I should call and explain. I’d feel better, at least.”

Perfect time to notice I have less than one shilling of airtime credit on my phone. Enough to do exactly … nothing. Awesome.

I can’t take a bucket-bath because the water is now shut off. Of course. So the best course of action seems to be to eat dinner, watch an episode of something on my laptop, and go to bed. I can’t cook because I have no kerosene, so I decide to make a sandwich. Maybe something with nutella. Or nutella with nutella. Except my bread got soaked. I’d never have a better excuse to eat nutella from the jar with a spoon, but all my spoons are dirty, and no water to wash them etc etc. So I scoop a bunch onto a knife.

Can you guess where this is going?

I should have, but I didn’t. I didn’t see how it was going to go terribly wrong until I sliced my tongue and tasted blood. Four year degree, academic honors, competitive government job, and I injure myself licking a paring knife. Legendary.

I strip out of my used-to-be-really-nice clothes and crawl under my mosquito net, ready to write the day off entirely. My ARRRRGHitude was compounded by that grand sense of profound guilt that compassionate over-intellectuals have sometimes, the one that goes, “My neighbor Anila lost a child to cholera last year and she soldiers on. I bet SHE never ate nutella for dinner or watched How I Met Your Mother instead of doing pressing paperwork due three days from now in Nairobi. Enzo had safari ants take over his house TWICE! Are my problems really worth this level of self-pity?” Luckily, before I could start to angst too deeply over my unworthiness to angst, I got a phone call. Everyone has (or needs) that friend to whom they can tell stories that end “AND THEN THE BARISTA GAVE ME DECAF INSTEAD OF HALF-CAFF!” That friend will always know the appropriate response is “Oh HELL NO she didn’t! I will beat her ass.” For me, that friend is PCV Bri, and she is fabulous. Thirty very ranty minutes later, I was feeling a little better, and beginning to recognize the hilarity of the situation once again. Some convos on GChat, a viewing of “Slap Bet,” and I was ready to call it a day that ended on a positive note.

Of course, part of the simultaneous blessing-and-curse of Peace Corps is that there’s really no such thing as a “typical day.” This means that every morning, you get to wake up and hit the “Reset” button. It starts all over, and you can try again. It’s a brand new day. I rolled out of bed around dawn and found my freshly mopped and suddenly devoid of ants. My clothes on the line were dry. My water was back on to wash my dishes. My faucet seemed to be ok. The nightmare of the previous day was already 12 hours behind me, and I was refreshed enough to face the challenges of whatever came next.

And preferably, those challenges don’t include centipedes.

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The opinions expressed on this blog do not represent those of the Peace Corps, the United States government, or any other organization. The author is solely responsible for all content on this blog.
Yours truly