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Troubled Waters

My bathroom has a name: "the beach."

It's called "the beach" because of how it is, with sand and water and strong sunlight and a nice breeze. Most of these things are a direct result of the combination that is 1) a dirty village and 2) the hole in my wall masquerading as a window. The water is from bad plumbing and a sadly-dripping shower-head. The shower-head does not produce any more water than can be dripped, sadly.

Let me tell you a story about the beach.

Some months ago, I noticed that whenever I flushed the toilet, a slow-creeping puddle would hazard forth from it's rear. An ominous portent. A harbinger of future troubles.

I harbor ambivalence toward the toilet. When I was Dar-shopping back in June, the landlords were showing it off to me, complete with a simple flush-with-the-floor turk. They insisted they could put in a Western toilet for me, and I insisted that the turk was just fine, thank you, and kindly stop talking so loudly. I'm standing right here. Just talk to me like a normal person.

When I moved in a week later, I received a rude surprise. Entering my bathroom, I was assaulted by an unwanted guest, crouching in wait for me right over the spot where my turk should have been: a western toilet. What a crock of shit this is, I said, perhaps to the loudlords downstairs, perhaps to the porcelain.

The posterior leakage increased in volume over a matter of weeks, and eventually the flushage rate suffered as well. Something big is coming, I thought. I asked the head loudlord, Hamou, for a plunger. What he produced resembled a plunger that Matellwould have designed if playhouses had bathrooms. To humor him, I plunged the plastic toy down into my nemesis' gaping hole, but alas, it produced no measurable effect, other than the effect of making me feel dirty - dirtier even than one normally feels after plunging a toilet. I blame this on the awkward size of what I can only graciously refer to as "the implement."

Hamou eventually asked for the implement, which I unceremoniously returned. For a time, I put off buying a real plunger. I thought that as more water made it's way through the pipes, the clog would eventually unstick itself.

Part of me hoped, too, that the whole mess would resolve itself by collapsing my bathroom onto the heads of the loudlords below, but this is Morocco, and nothing quite works out the way you hope.

A volunteer friend visited, staying over for several days, contributing both to my day-to-day happiness and my day-to-day sewage. Each flush drained just a bit more slowly and with just a bit more leakage. Additionally, when using the bathroom sink, water would leak out of the pipe where it entered the floor. Sometimes, water would actually gurgle up out of my floor drain when I used the bathroom sink. My anticipation grew. My friend asked, "Why don't you buy a plunger and fix that? Or tell your landlord?"

What I wouldn't give to avoid that fate. Interactions with the neighbors happen on an emergency-only basis.

I bought a plunger and began a prolonged campaign of pipe warfare. First, I tried some acid. This I came across quite by accident, and I'm sure I'd need some kind of safety certification in order to acquire it in the US. Anyway, the men at the store assured me fearfully that it was very effective and very dangerous, and so I took it home. It's a green bottle with a simple label featuring an angry tiger. When the lid is removed, a putrid smell and visible gas effervesce from its orifice.

I poured the tiger acid into both of my floor drains and a little into my toilet for good measure. They bubbled and brothed and filled my bathroom with a terrific odor, but clear my pipes they certainly did not. Another friend visited. Button-flushing became unthinkable. We flushed with a bucket. I shifted my strategy to a baking-powder and vinegar blitzkrieg, which seemed to help somewhat.

At this point, I decided that until the problem was righted, I would no longer be using the toilet for solid waste disposal. This I took care of in other locales, and it was not uncommon to find items like "poop in cafe" in my daily to-do list. Bound and determined I'd wind up a winner in this doo-doo debacle, I sallied forth.

A mixture of Holidays and Peace Corps workshops took me out of my site for quite some time, and though by this time I had begun inquiring after a plumber with my Mudir, the timing never worked out in my favor. After returning from a New Year celebration in the desert, I finally bit the bullet and talked to Hamou. He said he could get a plumber in there that Friday.

Friday came and went with no plumber. The beach festered.

Saturday morning, Hamou showed up at my door in his pajamas. "Are you ready? Let's get to work on your toilet!" He said this with a preternatural eagerness that only reinforced my misgivings towards him. I realized he was the plumber he had in mind for the job.

We stepped into the caution zone.

Now, before I share with you what transpired next, it is important that you have a clear picture of what the beach looked like before he started, so you appreciate the magnitude of the transformation.

I had made sure to clean up any excess sand that had settled on the floor, squeejee the water off the floor, and clean the toilet nicely. Besides a slightly upsetting smell, the bathroom and toilet all looked and behaved normally. 

This quickly changed.

Hamou began by running a stiff black hose from the roof's water faucet to my bathroom. He fed the hose deep into the toilet and turned on the water. Immediately, the toilet began filling with an opaque broth that smelled like Death's taint. With onsetting panic, he tried jiggling the hose in a desperate attempt to dislodge whatever it was that was keeping this unholiness above ground.

It is important to consider that the matter coming up from below was not fresh.  Between my travels and toilet-fasting, it had been damn-near two months since anything but liquid had gone into that sad, hopeless hole. What was being unearthed had been there waiting for an impressive period of time. It was a mixture of acid, toilet paper, and the human waste of three U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers. And Hamou had on this day the singular pleasure of becoming acquainted with it.

Realizing his plan was bootless, Hamou ditched the hose and ordered me to retrieve a plastic bag. I did. He wrapped his hand in it, grabbed the plunger, and entered the muck with which the bowl was now brimming. Like a boss, he worked that plunger with all his might, leaning into each thrust. Unfortunately, due to the rear-end breach which foreshadowed this whole disaster, each plunge only forced the viscous excreta to shoot out the back of my toilet and onto the wall, like blood splatter in a bad horror film.

The rhythmic repetition of this escaping shit, the spattering effect, the sound of it all - it gave me the impression that my toilet was actually a dying creature, a smelly dragon in its death throes, vanquished by the plunger. I grabbed the squeejee, for I could see that the situation was deteriorating.

Between the extra water my loudlord had introduced into the toilet and the volume of matter he was bringing up due to plunging, the toilet was now overflowing with the repellant stew. Moreover, what had escaped the back was making its way toward us. I fended off the encroaching puddle as best I could, but the floor drains were backed up too. I noticed Hamou was wearing sandals. Poor bastard. It's too late for him, but I can still save my shoes. Knowing I could not drain off the liquid, I busied myself keeping it from reaching my feet.

Hamou next laid his hands on the plumbing coming out of the back of the toilet, a large pipe that bent this way and that and connected to the floor. He manhandled the apparatus until it broke completely free of the toilet and the floor, and by so doing, he released the foulest wave of filth ever to crash on the beach. The smell was unbelievable, and the disgust factor couldn't be registered on any earthly scale. In that moment, Hamou and I shifted a few degrees closer to animal.

The panic broke. I could hear it in his voice. No longer could Hamou afford to patiently pronounce each Arabic word to the squeejee-weilding American. In an extremely agitated tone, he cried out: "Mohammed! Mohammed!" Hamou's son ran up the stairs to see what was the matter. As soon as he rounded the corner, he stopped dead in his tracks. I imagine the smell registered first, probably in the reptile part of his brain, triggering all kinds of primal alarms associated with such abhorrent odors. After his movement was arrested, I imagine his body naturally directed all of its resources to both sound and vision, the better to ascertain the surrounding landscape and to avoid whatever nasty end was surely awaiting him. In those heightened moments, this poor young boy was treated to the picture of his father, feet awash in a shallow shit-sea, eyes popping with trepidation, walls covered in what Jackson Pollock's studio might have looked like, had Jackson Pollock been either institutionally insane or a poop-flinging monkey.

What followed was machine-gun fire Arabic, far too garbled and emotion-filled for me to comprehend. The boy ran onto the roof, as per his father's instructions. In the meantime, the father moved to the floor drains with the plunger. He plunged these drains vigorously, covering two more walls with spatter-patterns (I'll never know what was in those drains that could have left a mark on my walls). For the first time, his actions were ameliorative, and I began to drive the ocean of depravity back into the pipes.

Mohammed ran in with a length of rebar.

Oh my, this is the end, I thought. Surely, Hamou is going to use this rebar to bash me over the head, so he can forget about this whole mess. As it turns out, Hamou had a much less creative use for the rebar in mind. He tried sticking it down the hole in the floor to free up the clogged pipe. Of course, the pipe runs less than a foot vertically before twisting to the side, and rebar is singularly unfit for the flexibility demanded by our situation.

More orders were shouted. More running. This time, Mohammed dragged in a comically large spool of clothes line wire. Hamou took one end of the spool and fashioned a hook. Driving the wire down into the floor, he jiggled with all his might and, in the process, successfully liberated my sewage system from its oppressive blockage. The sound was marvelous. We practically burst with relief. Eye contact was made for the first time. Congratulations, it said. We did this. 

Minutes later, the floor was squeaky clean, the walls wiped down, the toilet reassembled, and a light aromatic disinfectant sprinkled onto the tile. Hamou looked at me and said, "Safi?" And then he marched downstairs, just another day in the life.

Nowadays, the beach is open and peaceful and operating on its normal schedule. But I'll never forget the days of the tsunami, the days of darkness that threatened to swallow us all and permanently stain our souls.
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