On the sprawling plains of a town untouched by modern props, I stumbled upon a hotel named Better The Best. It really is the best in that little-wretched town whose name I withhold on grounds of compassion (life is hard enough without me discouraging the trickle of tourists to these parts)! I will say this much; the town makes up for its lack of starred hotels with a star-studded night sky.
I crawled into my room at nightfall, exhausted to the very core of my bones. Yet, for a whole hour, I sat on a chair and prayed for courage to venture into the bathroom.
A pair of slippers sat by the bathroom door. I say pair because there were two slippers, one for each foot. A blue one and a red one. Both were designed for a left foot. Yes, my regrets are never heavier than at bath time. Why the heck didn’t I pack my slippers?
Normally, I’d just go barefoot into the bathroom. I’d reason that the floor is probably cleaner than those slippers. This time though, the mismatched pair looked really good.
The bathroom was actually the toilet. A tiny bucket sat in the corner. It was half-full of water. I wondered how many people had used that bucket before me. I thought of all the diseases I might pick up. I filled the cap with Dettol and plopped it into the water. Just like it says in the commercial. While the water turned cloudy, I tried to channel the spirits of all the confident Dettol Moms I see on TV. It did not work.
I groaned through that bath. I groaned every time my body touched the tiles of that ridiculously tiny space. I groaned every time I had to scoop water from that bucket – wondering as I did, what germs thrived within, wondering if perhaps they were too strong for Dettol. I groaned when the soap fell from my hands and slid to the farthest corner of the bathroom. No freaking way I was picking anything off that floor! Not to worry though, I had shower gel in my bag. I finally emerged wondering if I was cleaner before the bath or after it.
Back to my chair, I went. This time, to pray for the courage to sleep. From the window, hung a curtain with the same visual effect as a boy in a shirt five sizes too small. It covered the midsections and left all else to all who cared to look.
With my over-active imagination, it wasn’t long before I started seeing eyes peering at me.
I was scared. Not petrified. Not until I saw actual movement outside the window. The speed with which I flipped the light switch, I think Hussein Bolt would have been jealous! I wanted to scream for help, but common sense prevailed. I needed to verify before I caused pandemonium. So with the last morsel of my courage, I walked to the window. The perpetrator turned out to be a tree branch swaying in the wind. I felt no shame. Only relief, as crawled into bed.
I thought I’d lie awake and worry about the state of the bathroom, the eyes in the window, and the mattress worn in the spot beneath my ribcage. Didn’t matter how much I tossed in that bed, the worn-out spot was right there beneath my ribcage! Thankfully I was exhausted; I tossed and turned for all of 60 seconds before I was delivered into the arms of slumber.
The sun rose (not a minute too soon) and we were off to the next town and the next hotel. This one was called Triple Carnivore. You know The Carnivore Restaurant, right? That happening joint that gets unceremoniously plopped into Kenyan songs? Triple Carnivore must be three times better, right? Wrong! Triple Carnivore is one part lodging, one part butchery, and one part pub. It is triple, all right!
With a heavy heart, I hoisted my bag on my shoulder.
Just to clarify, we weren’t on a crappy hotel fact-finding mission. Oh no. We were visiting people who called these parts home. People who had been ravaged by poverty and disease. People who had lost their cattle and buried their children. Children who had been married off, their childhood stolen by a culture that says it is right. Children who were hanging on, waiting for old men to staredown the invisible price tags on their foreheads. We were visiting a people whose spirits, by all logic, should be severely wounded, if not dead. The people we saw were tired. Hungry. Ill. But their spirits defied all logic, by remaining surprisingly alive.
That night when I settled into my crappy room with its worn mattress, mismatched slippers, and threadbare beddings, a quiet shame washed over me. From the bin, my half-eaten bread roll reminded me of the children scrambling for leftover bones. The dirty walls told me I was such an entitled brat. The mismatched slippers reminded me of the barefoot children. The threadbare beddings reminded me of the scrawny newborn covered in tatters. The Dettol in my hand reminded me of the children infested with skin sores. My shower gel reminded me of their mothers, beaming with pleasure because they had just received a bar of soap.
For a long time that night, I lay awake. The discomfort went far deeper than my superficial preferences. In a strange way, it comforted me. My discomfort comforted me.
It still does.
It comforts me because it keeps me human. It gnaws at my conscience. It chews at my sense of entitlement. With a much-needed poke in the ribs, it shows me how to grow my humanity. It also reminds me that stars are not always shiny.