When you think of luxury, what comes to mind? Maybe a lush spa with a masseuse and a big, fluffy towel. Maybe a free college education, a private jet, or dog pedicures. Probably not vegetables and a toilet seat. When I was thirteen, I took a trip with my dad from our home in the capital city of Ethiopia to a small village in the middle of nowhere called Mizan Teferi. I had a fantastic time and visited a lot of churches (which was the goal). But by the end, I had learned some tough lessons about life. The most memorable by far was “discovering luxury in the midst of the less-than-luxurious.” Here’s some of my conclusions. First, luxury is asphalt. The second half of our trip was exactly three hundred and fifteen minutes of bone-jarring, non-stop, washed-out dirt roads. Mizan itself was no better – when you were actually lucky enough to have a road.
Luxury is pants. Try wearing a skirt non-stop for five sweaty days – walking four or more hours a day through narrow dirt paths, icy rivers, and rough underbrush – and tell me that your thighs aren’t chapped. Luxury is potable water. One of my most vivid memories on the trip was when we went mule riding for seven hours to get to a particularly out-of-the-way church. Stupidly, we only took about a gallon of water. Stupider yet, we drank about half of it in the first few hours. By the end of the trip, I felt like I was about to either throw up or faint from thirst. So, in ultimate stupidity, I drank some of the local water. I’m happy to say – I survived. Mostly. Next, let’s not forget the ever-popular veggies. Before that trip, thirteen-year-old me would have said I’d be happy to never see another one in my life. Having eaten chicken qay wat and injera, the local bread, for five days, three meals a day, the older and wiser me readily attacked a vegetarian platter at a restaurant on the way home. Luxury Five is where things start to get interesting. It was our last night. A quick change of plans landed us back in the same dollar-a-night hotel we had stayed in all week, but in different rooms. Why was this important? As I was settling in, I noticed my new room had an impressive bug population. No sweat, I thought, whipping out the bug spray. Twenty minutes later, I went back into my room and attributed the dÃ©jÃ vu to “not enough time”. I started worrying about an hour later as I undressed and got into bed. Thirty minutes later, my worst nightmare had begun: a roach invasion. I stared at the emerging hordes in terrified fascination as they crawled into my shoes, over the floor, into my bags, on the ceiling, up the walls, over my mosquito net, and when I thought it couldn’t get any worse – over my pillow. Needless to say, I didn’t get any sleep whatsoever that night. Luxury number five: bug spray that kills. But even roach clouds have a luxurious lining. Having spent the week braving squat toilets, it was a pleasant surprise, indeed, to discover that my new bathroom had a functional latrine – and seat! That night, my final prayer before “Please kill them God, please, please, please,” was “Thank you, God, for a toilet seat.” For me, the lap of luxury holds a priceless treasure trove of unforgettable African experiences. And bug spray.
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