There’s a big blue bucket in my bathroom. The markings on the side indicate that it can hold 200 liters of liquid, about 52 gallons. There was water in it when I first moved in. I emptied it and turned it over, eliminating at least one mosquito breeding area. I have a Western, flush toilet and a shower after all so I felt I didn’t need to have the thing around for those purposes. My landlady came over to look around as I was getting settled and when she looked in the bathroom she got a bit excited and read me the riot act, or so it seemed. Her preternatural high-pitched voice shrilled as she motioned and pointed toward the bucket and the shower and the light fixture. She was indicating, I assumed, that the power and/or the water go out frequently and that I needed to have backup water available. I relented, flipping the barrel back over and adding a couple of inches of water until she quieted down and smiled.
While I didn’t need the water for flushing or for bucket showers, I quickly discovered it was very convenient when brushing and rinsing my teeth. There is no sink in my bathroom and the squat toilet makes for a handy spit sink. Ladle, rinse and spit.
Whenever I’m away from home for a few days, I try to remember to empty the bucket and turn it upside down so the water doesn’t go stale and start to grow things, but this last time away I forgot. I got home from Bangkok after dark. When I was getting ready to retire after unpacking and unwinding, watching a few episodes of Frasier, I went to brush my teeth. The single fluorescent bulb doesn’t sit wholly within the bathroom, part of it hangs into the kitchen (the walls don’t go all the way to the ceiling).
There’s adequate light for the mirror and enough illumination to do typical bathroom things. The big blue bucket is mostly in shadow, but I could see that there was something floating in the pink plastic scoop lying near the bottom of the 200 liter container. I grabbed my flashlight and shined it into the darkened interior. Splash. A rat had fallen in and drowned and in the throes of its despair scattered rat poo pellets throughout the bucket.
The back rooms in my house: the kitchen, the bathroom, the little room to the side with the lone sink, are not well-sealed off from the outside. The roof sits a few inches above the ceiling beams and some of the exterior walls have decorative concrete blocks with openings to allow ventilation. Along with ventilation, most anything can fly, crawl or slither through. Being in a province with substantial rain, I get more than my fair share of mosquitos, snails and slugs joining me in my solitude. I frequently need to rewash dishes after finding slugs inside cups and lizard poop on the dishes left in the dish rack.
Inside the house, and out, I’ve stepped on many a squishy thing in the early morning and those hours after dusk: lizards, slugs, worms (or at least I’m hoping they were worms), cat shit, and dog vomit. Squish. I was fortunate enough to see and avoid the dog-shredded, used, disposable diapers on the front patio—twice. That would have been a squish to remember. Whatever chemicals they use in those things to promote absorbency makes for a difficult clean up when they’re rent apart by hungry dogs in the night. It leaves a greasy, slippery film on the floor that’s hard to dissolve. I need to be careful, these floor tiles are pretty unforgiving and at my age I need to worry about breaking a hip.
You might think, “can’t you watch where you’re stepping?” Yes, of course, but the answer is not that straightforward. First there’s the darkness. The house is outfitted with overhead fluorescent lights and there’s always a delay between flicking the switch and the actual illumination, a delay I typically forgo by simply walking into the darkened room while the light comes to life. In those few seconds of darkness it is easy to step on something you can’t see. Then there’s the multi-colored throw rugs and tiles that can easily camouflage critters, big and small. And finally there are the now-necessary trifocals that blur the floor below as I look straight ahead. Crunch. The sound doesn’t bother me as much as it once did. It’s more the initial shock of not knowing what produced the crunch, the foot fall on something that’s crunchable, the crispness under the foot. In Thailand, shoes are left outside of homes and temples, offices and school rooms (students mostly, teachers get a pass), so a good portion of my day I’m barefoot. I’ve unwittingly stepped on a number of snails and other hard backed critters, cracking shells of various sizes beneath my feet.
The other day I came home and found a rather large grasshopper clinging to the mosquito net hung in the doorway leading to the kitchen. The grasshopper stayed attached to the net throughout the day and into the night, never budging when I walked from the hallway into the kitchen, moving the netting aside with each pass. When I woke up the next morning I found the insect gone, departed from the draped netting. It wasn’t until nightfall after I had prepared dinner and was ready to wash the dishes that my foot found him. Crunch. He had died on the little rug in front of the sink in the back room. Another one bites the dust, as I grow more accustomed to the sounds of Thailand.