by missfootloose on October 30, 2010 · 30 comments

in And So It Goes, expat, Ghana, Humor

Expat adventures aren’t all about finding cats in foreign hospital hallways, breaking a leg in the jungle or almost ending up in jail. Sometimes all you have to do is go to the little girls’ room and bingo: adventure.  And I don’t even mean the type of facility that offers you a hole-in-the-ground affair so you can exercise your thigh muscles.  (And then you slip, and end up with your leg inside, or you fall and  . . . okay let’s not go there.)

No, just a nice clean ladies’ room can become the scene of a crisis.  The story below took place when my mate and I lived in Ghana, West Africa, a place of many adventures. (Another bathroom story, set on another continent, will follow next week.)

Toilet Trauma

A new restaurant has opened in town and my man and I are going to try it out for lunch.  It’s in a new building and more construction is going on in the neighborhood.

We arrive and find only one other couple there, who seem to be enjoying themselves, their plates almost empty. The décor is modern and pleasing, and the tables are set with table cloths, proper cloth napkins and flowers, you know, nice.  Okay. On with it:

We order food, we receive food, we eat food, and we like the food:  the way it is supposed to go.  Then, the way it is supposed to go, I must visit the facilities before returning home.  Now home is not far away, but there is always the possibility of getting stuck in Accra’s traffic and that would not be good if my physical plumbing needed attention.  My toilet philosophy is this:  If there is one, use it.  So off I go, knowing I will find decent sanitary fixtures in this nice new building.

And I do.

The amenities are down the stairs at a still-unoccupied level of the building.  The ladies’ room has two stalls, all white, all clean, and there is even toilet paper!  Okay, it’s plain white but don’t you just love this picture?

I enter one of the stalls, and try to close the door. I fail.  The door does not quite fit in the opening in which it is meant to fit. It’s made of wood and the wood has warped.  But no worries.  With a jaunty hip swing I give the door a good shove and this does the trick.  I lock the door.

After having made use of the nice white toilet, I flush like I was brought up to do and unlock the door.  Unlocking works fine, opening the door does not.  I pull, I yank, I pull, I yank.  I sigh.  My hip has done an excellent job of shoving the door closed.  Closed to the point of jammed.

So I bang on the door.  “Hello!” I yell.  Now, I’m not a banging-and-yelling type of gal, so it takes me a bit of effort to do this with conviction and energy, but I’m a fast learner.  When nothing happens, I give it my all.  I bang that door with all my might and yell at the top of my voice. “Hello! Hello! Hello!”  It sounds rather hollow in the large, empty bowels of the building.  I can hear my words echoing back at me.  Okay, that’s a lie.  Still, all is very quiet down here.  I pound some more and yell some more.

Certainly someone will hear me.  Certainly someone else will come just to use the restroom.  Wouldn’t you think?  After all, there are waiters and waitresses and cooks and dishwashers and cleaners and other people in the restaurant and they all have bladders.

Nobody needs to pee.  Ten minutes later, still nobody needs to pee.

I bang some more.  I yell some more.  I feel like a crazy woman alone in the dungeons.  This is not good for my self esteem, so I give up.

I close the toilet lid (no one has broken or stolen it yet) and sit down to contemplate my navel the situation.  There is a small window high up on the wall, but I cannot reach it.  There is no escape without outside help and the outside help does not need to pee.

Not having a reputation for spending much time sitting on toilets (I eat lots of fiber), I expect that my husband will soon come looking for me. Unless he’s engrossed in the International Herald Tribune, which he probably is.

To pass the time I study my surroundings more carefully.  The nice white room has not been finished off with great finesse:  no straight lines, no true corners, sloppy putty and sealants, sloppy painting.  Well, so it goes.  In Ghana these are mere details.  From outside I hear the noises of the construction going on at the building next door.  Jack hammering, pounding, sawing,  music, yelling, and so forth.

Fifteen days minutes later and wouldn’t you think by now the husband would start wondering about my whereabouts? Yes, you would think that.

I consider the word bathroom, a euphemistic word Americans often use for a place like this.  I think of all the different names I know: washroom, powder room, toilet, twalet, WC, the john, the loo, ladies room, lavatory, restroom.

Restroom indeed: I am resting.  And resting.  And resting.  My fists are hurting.  They will be black and blue by tomorrow.  Tomorrow I may still be sitting here.  Fortunately I have a toilet to use, which is a comfort.

And then it happens: I hear footsteps on the stairs.  I jump up, start pounding the door again and yelling, forgetting about my self-image.

Someone shoves open the door for me.  A waitress.  She’s been sent to investigate by my patiently waiting husband.  After twenty minutes.  TWENTY MINUTES!!!

“The door was stuck,” I say, superfluously.  She’s all spic and span in a white uniform and might actually be a nurse ready to take me to the insane asylum.  She gives a little shrug.

“Yes, madame,” says she, “sometimes it be like that.”
NOTE:  I’m told no one realized it was me banging on the door and screaming my head off; they thought they were just hearing the construction noises next door.  (I sound like a construction worker?)  However, it is now a marital ritual that when I go off into the wild yonder to enjoy whatever facilities are present, I give my mate a long, meaningful look and he will nod and say: “Five minutes.”

* * *

Have you experienced any toilet traumas, foreign or domestic?  Surely you must.  Do share and make my day!  And don’t forget to come back next week for another one of my getting-trapped-in-the-bathroom adventures.  Yes, it happened again.


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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Bianca October 30, 2010 at 2:50 am

At the tender age of 18 I spent a year in Paris working as a “jeune fille au pair”. These were the golden days. I had lots and lots of energy, looked like an angel and most importantly: I had found freedom. Coming from a protective middle class background a whole new world had opened itself to me. Luckily I had what all Dutch girls have: common sense..
One night I came home, er, early after a night of hard partying. The one thing I needed to do before crashing in my bad was using the bath room. Here comes the challenge: this was a shared facility down the hall, often cold, occupied or dirty. This was a cold humid night, but all seemed to be going well… till the moment of closing the door. As soon as the door was locked, the light would go on. Not this night though. A rush of electricity went through my arm and I found myself glued to the lock for a split second. As I wasn’t very experienced yet, I acted instinctively: I immediately tried to open the lock so I could escape. Another 220 volt shot through my arm. I was a bit tired, so cried a little (remember I was only 18..) and got my common sense back. Do my business first, than open the door. Holding my sleeve.
I don’t believe they make doors like that anymore. Or have I moved up enough in the world to avoid that kind of housing?


missfootloose November 4, 2010 at 9:35 am

Oh, my gosh, what a story! I thought 220 volt would have you convulsing on the floor! You must not have been living with the creme de la creme of French society for that kind of a toilet arrangement.

When I was twenty, I had signed up to be an au pair to France as well, had gone through the whole process. Couldn’t wait! Then American love intervened and I ended up in Kenya, instead. It may not have been called Dutch common sense but it worked 😉 My French remained basic, but I learned how to say where is the toilet in Swahili: cho iko wapi?

Thanks for the story!


Boonie October 30, 2010 at 7:22 am

I’m lucky in that I’ve never been bogged down like that
Yours is an amusing yarn. Thanks.

All the best, Boonie


missfootloose November 4, 2010 at 9:36 am

Boonie, glad yoiu were amused!


Lady Fi October 31, 2010 at 1:42 am

Great story! Although you were gone a long long time before your husband sent off a search party…

When I was teaching in the UK, we had so many summer students, that we had to hire a room in a hotel! One of the students got locked in there and no matter how much we tried, we couldn’t open the door from the outside. After a while, the hotel staff had to call the fire brigade who eventually managed to release the now sobbing girl.


missfootloose November 4, 2010 at 9:52 am

Poor girl. There is something innately terrifying about being trapped or stuck, even if you are not in mortal danger and you should rationally know that somehow you well get out of there.

It took my husband so long, I think, because he had his newspaper handy.


carolina October 31, 2010 at 10:38 am

Well, you promised an entertaining story and it is 🙂
Twenty minutes is a very, very long time.
The first and last time I got locked in a toilet (at least I hope it was the last time) I was about seven. I have no idea how long I spent in that small cubicle, but it was enough to make me slightly claustrophobic and weary of toilet doors for the rest of my life. I always take a mobile phone and a crowbar now.
It is only a slight comfort to know that there are more people who’ve suffered this traumatic experience (am I exaggerating? I think not.).


missfootloose November 4, 2010 at 9:57 am

For a rational, common sense Dutch person, this sort of thing really shouldn’t be traumatic, but a little exaggeration makes it fun.

Thanks for the tip about the crowbar. I do need a bigger purse as I already carry duct tape, mace spray, a taser gun . . . Any other suggestions, anyone?


Mara November 1, 2010 at 3:24 pm

I was once sent to use a disabled toilet in a Dutch high school. After having done the lot I wanted to open the door again, but the lock was locked and I couldn’t open it anymore. I pulled the ‘aid’ rope, but after 10 minutes still nobody had come to rescue me. I wasn’t too worried, they would come and find me when they wanted to leave, since I had the keys to the coach in my pocket.

Finally after a quarter of an hour I heard a few students walk past. I managed to get their attention and they promised to get the concierge! Apparently the lock had given trouble before. The thing I found most disturbing though was the fact nobody had come to check the alarm!


missfootloose November 4, 2010 at 10:04 am

The lock had given trouble before? And the alarm was probably not working, either if no one responded. What shocking lack of maintenance, shame!


FutureExpat November 1, 2010 at 7:31 pm

LOL! What an adventure. And what was your husband doing/thinking all that time???

Reminds me of that old nonsense song, “oh, dear, what can the matter be? Seven old ladies locked in the lavat’ry, they were there from Monday to Saturday. Nobody knew they were there.” Then it goes on with quite a few (maybe 7?) verses. . . My uncle used to sing it.


missfootloose November 4, 2010 at 10:07 am

What was my husband doing all that time … I realized I had given no hint of that, so I did add a sentence to my tale to clarify. He was checking up on the state of the world reading the International Herald Tribune, a much coveted newspaper we’d just bought that morning.


GutsyWriter November 2, 2010 at 12:59 am

As usual, this made me laugh so hard. I agree, what the hell is wrong with husbands? Do they think we’re reading a book on the public potty?


missfootloose November 4, 2010 at 10:09 am

They may not be thinking about us at all sitting on the potty!


Madame DeFarge November 2, 2010 at 5:06 pm

French toilets. Truly ghastly experience in the dark of a public ‘drop’ toilet, standing on something in the dark and not noticing until I’d got back in the car. After which time, it was smeared all over the car mat.


missfootloose November 4, 2010 at 10:09 am

I know they used to have these atrocities in France, but do they still have them these days??


Laural Out Loud November 4, 2010 at 1:41 am

My senior year of college I went to Guatemala to study the Mayan culture for two months, and lived with a family. Homes in the city I was staying in were large spaces partitioned off with walls that didn’t reach the ceiling. Including the bathroom. I didn’t worry about it until I ate something bad (the street food was so irresistable!) and spent a long. loud night on the toilet. Oh, and all the TP had to be tossed in the garbage, evidence to my disgrace. I couldn’t look the family in the eyes after that and requested a home change.


missfootloose November 4, 2010 at 10:13 am

Poor you! Very embarrassing indeed, only certainly, your hosts were no stranger to similar incidents in their own family. It’s interesting what people in different cultures find normal or not embarrassing.


maria altobelli November 4, 2010 at 12:04 pm

What a hoot, Miss Footloose. One way to learn about a new culture is certainly through it’s bathrooms. In our early days in Mexico, a bush or mesquite plant was our first choice since public bathrooms were far inferior. That has changed today. However, the wastepaper basket next to the toilet gives a new meaning to “waste paper,” since TP clogs up most Mexican plumbing and is deposited outside, not inside the basin.

On my first trip to Latvia, my husband assured me the toilets at the Aglona church had been remodeled. Indeed that might have happened but the remodeling had not lifted the facilities off the floor. In retrospect, I see that I should have removed my pants and slung them over my shoulder rather than go for a direct hit. The local populace found great mirth in the evidence of my splatter.

Instead of grey pants, I could have gone for black. That would have worked better.

In a lifetime of traveling and years of expat living, I have come upon a few hard and fast rules. Like you, Miss Footloose, if there’s a bathroom, I use it. Never can be sure when the next one will appear. I always carry TP or Kleenex with me and I am never without a book. Minutes go by much faster when I’m entertained by the adventures of someone else.

If it had been my husband with his fascination for newspapers, I might still be locked inside. But man, can that guy tell you what’s happening in the world.

Fun read. Thanks.


missfootloose November 4, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Maria, what fun to read about your experiences! I’m sure you’re very experienced toilet excercises. It does keep life interesting! But the squeamish better stay home…


MaryWitzl November 5, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Such a great story. I’d have been shrieking and pounding my fists off!

I once stayed at a very cheap hostel in Guatemala, on an island in the middle of a lake, the name of which I have completely forgotten. The outhouse was down a long path that threaded through onion fields, and it wasn’t a pleasant place. The first time I used it, I was wearing overalls with all my money, passport, etc. in the pocket on the bib part. I forgot about what happens when you have to use the facilities — you can’t peel overalls down like you can trousers — and I spent a miserable few minutes picking all of my valuables off the nasty wooden floor.


JoAnne Stein November 19, 2010 at 11:51 am

What adventures you’ve had! Fortunately I’ve never had anything near as shocking happen as you or some of your readers. The closest I came was in Russia where not all public bathrooms have toilet paper in the individual stalls. It took some time to get used to this and I often forgot to take some in with me. Of course I usually had tissues with me or something so it wasn’t a disaster. But it definitely throws you off kilter when something goes amiss while doing something so mundane.


missfootloose November 19, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Tissues in your handbag, a necessity when traveling in many countries. In Armenia in pubic bathrooms (near the big vegetable markets for instance) toilet ladies guard the entrance and will sell you a few squares of toilet paper, not of the softest variety.


Gabijan November 24, 2010 at 5:31 am

mwaaa I hate the feeling of realizing you are stuck! In an elevator, toilet or even in life! .. Regaridng restrooms in restaurants…when its not busy i always leave the doors unlocked, I never have been caught off guard!. I was at a party in the Netherlands long long time ago.. lots of (drunk) students and loud music. I enter the toilet… and yeb,… stuck… later than evening some drunk students heard me banging the door and thought it was funny and just banged back and giggled….They just went on to continue the party.. drunk students…go figure! what a party I had! BTW I just red that a woman in paris had been stuck for 20 days! Now why would you lock the restroom door when you are alone at home anyway????


Joburg Expat February 3, 2013 at 5:26 pm

I love this story, glad I came across it from your most recent “toilet post”. I laughed especially hard at “Fortunately I have a toilet to use, which is a comfort” – love your witty humor!
Joburg Expat recently posted..And the Award Goes to…My Profile


missfootloose February 4, 2013 at 6:41 pm

It’s not always easy to find the humor in certain situations, but I’m learning 😉


Smally March 30, 2013 at 10:49 pm

I was locked in the toilet at work last night. The door slammed in on me, and that was it. I could not even pee again, as the door slammed, I realized it was locked in, high walls and all there was a small window to the top. I climbed to the top of the tank and put my hand outside and started shouting HELP HELP, no one heard me. I bang bang on the door for about 30-45minutes. During this time, I ripped the wire out of the tank and tried my best to pick the lock, eventually I was out…….I suffered minor injuries, bruises and scrapes. This had left me so traumatized I could not even pee after……..It sounds funny, but if you experience it yourself, you would be really traumatized….So from now on, I leave the door open when I go to pee…


missfootloose April 2, 2013 at 5:31 am

Oh, that was awful! Were you alone at the office? When I was trapped I kept thinking that eventually someone would need to use the facilities and rescue me! Very clever of you to be able to get out using the toilet tank wire! Thanks for your story!


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