I like to be on my own. It makes me feel competent. It makes me feel like an adult. It makes me feel strong. It feeds my ego.
But having left my home, I am back at square one. In a new culture, I am learning how to do everything all over again. It is as though I must have someone constantly holding my hand, and my pride does not like it. On my own here, I can do nothing well. I am useless. I cannot teach anyone on my own. I cannot cook on my own. I cannot do laundry on my own. I cannot pick up my mail on my own. I cannot negotiate a (reasonable) cab fare on my own. I cannot travel to another city on my own.
Thankfully, I at least know how to use the restroom on my own…or do I?
(Ryan and Aubin, his young translator and travel guide, are finishing dinner at a restaurant in a small Malagasy village. Soon, they will be getting back on the taxibus for a few more hours of cramped travel. As they finish, Ryan asks Aubin a simple question.)
RYAN: Aubin, where should I go to use the restroom?
AUBIN: Oh yes…Umm hold on just a second. (Aubin motions for the waitress)
RYAN: No, Aubin you don’t have to–
AUBIN: (to waitress in Malagasy) Excuse me, my foreign friend here was wondering if there is a toilet that he could use.
WAITRESS: (looks confusedly from Aubin to Ryan, then says to Aubin shaking her head) Ha! We don’t have a toilet silly!
AUBIN: (to Ryan in English) They don’t have a toilet.
RYAN: Yes I caught that. I know how to ask for a toilet, but I assumed there wouldn’t be a toilet. So I am just wondering where I ought to go.
AUBIN: I see, yes. One second. (to waitress in Malagasy) Yes, my foreign friend would really like a toilet. Is there perhaps some toilet at a home nearby where you can take him to–
RYAN: Aubin! It’s fine. I knew there probably wouldn’t be a toilet. I wasn’t asking for a toilet. I just need to know where the proper place is to go pee.
AUBIN: Oh, well you will urinate out in the open air.
RYAN: Yes, I know that Aubin. That is what I meant by my original question. Where outside should I go to urinate?
AUBIN: I don’t understand?
RYAN: Aubin, where I am from, we always go to the bathroom inside. There are restrooms everywhere: restaurants, schools, the bank, everywhere. It would be rude for me to go pee in the parking lot.
AUBIN: Parking lot?
RYAN: Outside the restaurant.
RYAN: Yes. So, not being used to this, I am just wondering: where is the culturally appropriate place to pee outside?
AUBIN: Umm, you just go outside.
RYAN: Ok great. I was just checking to make sure I don’t offend anyone when I go to the corner over there by that old lady to relieve myself.
AUBIN: Do what?
AUBIN: Oh. But why would you urinate in the courtyard?
RYAN: THAT’S WHY I’M ASKING THIS QUESTION! (deep breath) Aubin, we are in the middle of a town. I see that courtyard, or the street, or that store over there, or that cow. From my perspective none of those say, “You can pee on me.”
AUBIN: Hmm, maybe I will just take you.
So Aubin takes me to where I can go pee here in Madagascar. If you are curious, a few feet in front of the taxibus is a good spot.
Oh its humbling not knowing how to do stuff on my own… Who wants to rely on other people? Thankfully in America, we have found ways to do almost anything on our own. But perhaps a curse goes along with that, and all too often we get just what we asked for. We wanted to be on our own and end up on our own—all by ourselves. Alone. That is never a problem in Madagascar.