A camping expedition in Tanzania was our bid to seek the ultimate antithesis of the humdrum London lifestyle. We had spent many hours researching websites, reading guidebooks, poring over maps and choosing the right equipment but nothing could prepare us for the toilet facilities (or rather lack of them).
At a dry and dusty camp Pimbi, we were greeted by a friendly family of possums as the jeep rolled in to a halt. After pitching our tent, we explored the site on foot and found a small hut containing a deep pit toilet, essentially a huge hole in the ground but fully enclosed and therefore allowing total privacy. Travelling between sites, we would sometimes stop on the side of the dirt roads to relieve ourselves, which would inevitably attract an audience of local children who saw “muzungu” (pale-skinned foreigners) as objects of great curiosity.
We soon discovered it was better to leave the toilet door open otherwise you would completely shut out any daylight and you would not want to miss the hole in the ground or place a foot wrong in there. Leaving the door open also allowed fresh air to circulate as there was a distinct possibility of fainting from the fumes if you were to breathe in too deeply. One of us would keep guard outside and hold the toilet essentials pack of loo roll, wet wipes and antibacterial hand gel while the other used the facilities. The whole process was perilous as I also discovered that an exposed backside attracts hungry mosquitoes and some bats had decided the pit latrine made a good home, presumably feasting on the many insects breeding in the rotting waste.
Game watching suddenly took on a new meaning the next day, when I needed to stop for a toilet break in the long grasses of the rolling plains of the Ngorongoro crater. Our driver warned us that this was a risky manoeuvre and I needed to be very quick as I could be seen as easy prey. Crouching behind the jeep, my trusted friend stood on sentry duty again, while I responded to the call of nature, having never before felt so terrified by the thought of entering the food chain lower down the cycle than usual.
Later that night I was awoken by the sound of rain drops hitting the tent. This was unusual as we were supposed to be in the dry season and I couldn’t get back to sleep due to an awareness that my bladder was filling rapidly. Eventually I had no choice but to head for the toilet hut alone, stuffing the toilet kit into my small day pack, I pulled a plastic poncho over my head and headed off swiftly. The rain was pouring down and it was much cooler than during the day and very dark, so I started singing aloud to comfort myself. As I picked my way back towards the tent, I noticed the red-eye reflex of animals very near the tent. Strange that the possum family would still be out in the pouring rain I thought, as I came nearer there was a terrible realisation that I was seeing two eyes belonging to a very big head. I turned off my head torch and horror struck as I picked out the shape of a huge buffalo standing a few metres from the tent with his head lowered to the ground. I advanced slowly, steadily and quietly; to my great relief the buffalo seemed unconcerned and didn’t move an inch and at the last moment I dived through the tent flap and disappeared. Terrified and shaking by this near-miss encounter; as I climbed back into my sleeping bag I felt the urge to pee again.