1st June. 2am. Kabei’s house.
I’ve tried to pretend this isn’t happening. I’ve tried to squeeze my eyes shut and go back to sleep. I’ve even tried to massage the fluid in my bladder back up into the bowels of my body, but it isn’t working. Nothing is. It’s now time to face the cold, hard reality: I’m bursting for a wee.
I might sleep shoulder-to-shoulder with Kabei and his family in this small house on stilts, suspended some ten-foot above the sea, but it isn’t the thought of them all hearing my ablutions that stops me from wanting to go. The walk from my place on the floor over to the toilet hole is an absolute death trap. First I’ve got to step over the family without waking up Nopal, Kabei’s two year old son, who will definitely start screaming for the third time tonight, then there’s that two-foot high step onto the back platform that’ll probably take out my shins, and finally there’s the three-inch wide twenty-foot long plank of wood I’ll have to negotiate to make it to the hole in the floor. Mess that last bit up and I’ll crash directly through the bamboo flooring and straight into the sea. If it’s low tide I’ll probably break my back, if it’s high I’ll be in with the sea monsters, either way, death would be preferable to facing up to the reality that I’ve just destroyed this wonderful family’s bathroom on only my second night here.
The 1500 people that feed this slice of sea have created a whole new ecosystem directly beneath their stilted houses. Thousands of bivalve muscles gorge themselves on Sampelan faeces and a smorgasbord of sea worms and slugs feast on what they miss. These easy pickings bring in vast pulsating clouds of big-mouthed baitfish that, in turn, attract the predators such as banded sea snakes, jack fish, groupers and rock wrasse, all keen for an easy meal. During my time on the toilet I’ve lost track of the amount of marine species I’ve seen between my legs: baby octopus, tiny triggerfish, mangrove cardinals and hundreds of speckled moray eels all squirming, wriggling and twisting among the wooden posts, litter and waste; A cornucopia of readily available ocean creatures that the Sampelan Bajau people can rely on when the weather is too bad to take to the seas.
This isn’t going to settle down anytime soon. I’m out of options. I’m just going to have to go for it.
2nd June. Daybreak. Kabei’s house.
Kabei is in absolute stitches. He is actually crying with laughter.
Last night after a long balancing act, grasping for the wall and sweat soaked, I eventually made it to the poo-hole and cracked on with my private business. That should have been the end of it, but no, unwittingly, I also knocked my glasses through the hole. I must have absent-mindedly left them right next to the toilet following my pre-bedtime wash and, now, nestling in amongst the fish on a mercifully clear sandy bottom, are my spectacles, glinting up at me in the early morning light: seemingly close, but devastatingly well out of reach.
I can’t see without them but neither can I envisage how we were going to get them back without venturing under the houses at the absolute premium time for village bowel movements. We need to act fast though. The tide is turning and they could easily be swept straight out to the open sea.
Kabai has a plan. He’s composed himself enough now to grab his handline. With a single hook and a long piece of nylon line he reckons he can fish my glasses right back out through the very same hole they fell down. I admire his optimism, but he looks a bit like one of those happy chancers you see shovelling endless loose chain into the ‘pay a quid and grab a fluffy toy’ machines at the funfair. He literally does not stand a chance.
It’s weird. It’s always the stupid little things that you take for granted that end up stitching you up the hardest. Why didn’t I just bring spare glasses?
Kabei is lowering the line now. Here goes nothing…