Sometimes it makes a lot of sense to go back and tell a not-so-recent story without provocation. I’m not just talking about how you’re telling a current story and then it makes you think of another one. There is a distinction between exploiting past stories for blog filler and stories that are somehow significant to understanding your life now and therefore demand to be told.
This story is not monumental. Nor is it particularly good. I actually kind of hate this story. Not because it’s embarrassing (I’ve lost all sensitivity of feeling where this story is concerned) or even because of the conflicted emotions this story used to give me (see previous parenthesis). It’s mostly because I’m sick of it. The thing is, this story DOES come up all the time. A post I was trying to write (now relegated to my drafts queue, or “The Place Where Ideas Go To Die”) assumed prior knowledge of this event. So the short reason to explain why this is happening is pretty simple: I really wanted to be able to link this in the future when I casually mention falling into a gutter.
Yes. That’s the story I’m about to tell. Aside from it’s lack of monumental significance, I have previously omitted it from the blog because I have told it approximately four hundred times. Approximately. Everyone who knows me in person knows this story and I know that there have to be a few people that don’t know me that also know this story because in the semester after I got back from being abroad, I was introduced at parties in the following fashion: “This is my friend Nicole. She was abroad in the spring. I told you about her – she fell in the gutter. Tell him about how you fell in the gutter!” (This, by the way, is a definite cock-block intro. Female friends introducing me to a guy this way are either saying (1) I like him so back off -or- (2) I don’t actually like him, but it’s important to my self-worth that he find me more fuckable than you. In either case my response is irrelevant because his introduction to me is “Girl who stood in human waste. In Africa.” It is my understanding that this is not synonymous with hotness/fuckability.)
I have a lot of stories about falling. Every clumsy person does. This is often my ace card to prove that I am not just run-of-the-mill clumsy, but that I do some really stupid shit (ha! pun!). In spite of my many (many, many) stories about my ineptitude with the fine art of walking, this is one of the more catastrophic examples. Personally, I am partial to the time I was walking up a hill (also in Ghana) and face planted. It was a little gravelly and people were clearly taking the longer way around. Being of lazy/impatient ilk, I opted for the direct route. I was walking one second and then I was on my stomach sliding back down the hill. My immediate concern was salvaging my Fan Choco. While I verified that my Fan Choco had not yet been opened (and was therefore safe), those around me frantically searched for First-Aid-like things, because pretty much every bit of exposed flesh on the front of my body was bleeding (exempting my face, thankfully). As is always the case with these things, four kids from my program then happened upon us (to further witness my difficulties with forward locomotion) and joined in the clean-up project before placing me (still bleeding, though mostly cleaned of dirt and such) and the friend I was with into a cab back to our hostel so I could be properly bandaged. I still have a few scars from this. But mostly I remember being in the cab and feeling conflicted as to whether I should be more concerned with the frozen chocolate milk dripping all over me or the fact that there was a lot of blood everywhere. I decided that there was little I could do about the latter so it would be best to focus on enjoying my Fan Choco. And listening to my hilarious ginger friend (who, in the event that I reference her in the future, shall be known as Shit Show Librarian, because I think she would like that name) joke about what disasters we both were as human beings.
Anyway, the gutter story is also a story I hated for a really long time for reasons other than redundancy. I hated telling this story because when I first got back from Ghana, I was horrified that everyone kept asking me to tell it. When I heard this story in my head all I could hear was this: “I am including approximately one fact about Ghana, and that is the gutters are wide open. What. The. Fuck.” Several of my friends in my program were sounding boards for various things. One of whom became like an older sister, and she’s relevant to this story, so we’ll call her Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman and I spent a lot of time discussing how we were going to talk about this experience when we got back. How careful we wanted to be representing certain things, because there are some things that certain people back home would never get, and that there are a lot of conclusions that people will try to jump to. All of that being said: if people were only going to hear one thing from me about my whole semester abroad, I really did not want it to be about some fucking gutters.
And then I just got over it. I knew full well that one semester in a place hardly made me an expert on it, and that anyone silly enough to mistake me for that would be an idiot. And I just can’t be held responsible for all of the idiocy in the world. There are certain people from whom I withhold certain information, because I know what preconceived notions they are expecting me to reinforce, but otherwise, it is what it is. Also, I probably have some other issues with these certain people. And the fact that this story is hardly at all about the place, is actually why it’s best story to tell. I can tell a stupid story and everybody gets a good laugh at my expense and I don’t actually have to discuss all of the complicated stuff unless I want to. Which I don’t. Especially not now that so much time has passed, and it’s significance to my life has radically declined.
All of that being said, I’ve given the ending away. Before I tell you the story, the one thing that you need to know is that in Cape Coast, the gutters are essentially a two foot moat on either side of all the roads. And that this houses pretty much all sewage in the city. People toss their trash in them, kids squat over them to do their business…all of that.
I was walking through Cape Coast with Wonder Woman, Shit Show Librarian, and Wise Girl (I lack a better name for her because we never got very close. She intimidated me, and made me feel profoundly aware of my ineptitude, though probably unintentionally). We were newly arrived and in search of fabric to get dresses made because that’s the thing to do. I was in a group and someone else was leading the way. We had been to several places and I was still processing my surroundings. Lots of looking around and “taking it all in.” We reached a busier part of town, very close to the shore. At the intersection of two major roads, one of which being a large hill (this intersection was the bottom of said hill and a dead end for this street). I was not paying attention. Suddenly the ground was about four feet lower than it had been previously and I was standing in mucky slimy business up past my knees. About as quickly as I was down, I shot back out. I was now down one sandal and only half sure what just happened. Wonder Woman is a New Yorker who spent her summers life guarding, so her crisis response time is instant. She told me to look at her and then had the other girls empty their water all over my legs. I never saw how gross it was, but I can only assume it was nasty if Goal 1 was keeping me from seeing it.
I was dazed and after I realized that I had scraped my shin on the way out, I just started crying. (This, for the record, is the only part of the story that I find particularly embarrassing.) Shit Show Librarian moved me to a less conspicuous location and tried to calm me down while Wonder Woman and Wise Girl went to find me new flip flops. This insanely cool girl who worked for our program (doing what, I’m not exactly sure. We just knew that she was a lot cooler than us.) of course saw me and helped me get a cab back to my house. After hunting down my house mother and a house key (a process that involved a lot more crying, as I was locked out and confused and again had to be rescued by a neighbor boy who was skipping school but knew my family) I took a shower. As a sort of joke, my mom and I bought the “Boo Boo Rescue Kit” when First Aid Kit Shopping because the box was shaped like a cartoon ambulance and I thought that was awesome. The significance: a child’s first aid kid contains about nine different kinds of disinfectant.
I showered, put on the boots I had when I was in New York pre-departure (it was January and this is obviously the only time I wore them in Ghana) and marched myself back into town. A couple days later, Wonder Woman and I were having one of our many conversations about the check points we set for ourselves on rough days (“I just have to get to X date. If I’m unhappy on X date, then I can say I gave it a solid try and go home without any shame.”) She looked at me and said, “You’re not going home.” I asked her what she meant. “After I watched you get in that cab I knew that either I was going to find out tomorrow that you went home, or I would see you in a couple hours and you would be fine.”
Which is the part of the story that nobody else cares about, but is the only thing I still like about it. On the long list of reasons I chose Ghana for my study abroad was the hardcore germophobia I had before I left. I fell. I had a fucking meltdown. And then I pulled myself together and moved on. When she first said that, I didn’t really get it. I thought for a long time that the whole point was that falling into a gutter was the worst that could happen and THAT is why I would never go home. It was only much later that I realized that my hysteria was the actual point. For me, personally, the gutter really was high on the list of worst-things-ever and it freaked me the fuck out. But the thing I demonstrated that day (and countless times thereafter) was that I can actually pull myself back together.
This, in a way, is the how-this-is-relevant-now part of the story. It’s the thing I have to keep reminding myself. The last couple months have been really fucking difficult for me. I keep feeling like I have somehow already managed to completely ruin my life. At 22. I’m trying to remind myself that my situation is really not a big deal. The notion that borrowing money so I could go to school would be a life-ending choice sounds about as silly as the idea that my struggles with bipedalism could ruin my entire semester abroad. And that somehow I am going to get my shit together and work it out.
Or so I keep telling myself. Something along those lines. We’ll see.