*Sometimes stories are better heard than read. So sit back and relax while I read, if you prefer.
Not many people have the unique misfortune of being caught bathing under the light of the moon in an indigenous community off the coast of Panama. I, however, am no longer in that category.
It was about 9PM after an exhausting day leading a group of kids with Asperger’s Syndrome on a sea kayaking expedition through the islands of Bocas del Toro. Working with kids on the Autism spectrum requires a colossal amount of energy and to make matters worse, virtually all of us left the previous campsite painted with bug bites. Not to mention, there was a film of saltwater covering my body from paddling all day. Add the sweat and the rancid body odor from the heat and you have all the necessary ingredients for a seriously shower-deprived Britten. I can think of few other times in my life (one being after 17 dirty days in Ecuador, a personal best) when I had a more urgent need to bathe.
While on course I often emphasize the importance of water conservation, especially when my students and I go to far-flung areas with limited reserves. And like a good instructor, I was practicing what I preach. I filled my two Nalgene water bottles and excitedly prepared for a highly anticipated, environmentally conscious birdbath – I’m not joking when I say that this is standard procedure for me, by the way. The only problem was that I couldn’t find a suitable place. Not even a banana tree was close enough to censor my unacceptable state of filth. We were, after all, camping out in a wide-open Guaymi tribal village where most houses are thatch-roof huts within close proximity.
Eventually I decided to take my chances, despite the lack of coverage. There was one tiny light powered by a generator about 50 yards away, but other than that it was totally dark and nobody was stirring about. If absolutely necessary, I could throw my towel on and haul [naked] ass back to my tent.
The water came dribbling out and cleansed my grimy face, wonderful drop by wonderful drop. I cupped a handful and triumphantly scrubbed my armpits as the Dr. Bronner’s soap began to work its sudsy magic. I was instantly revitalized. It was wonderful.
Then, it happened.
Six or seven flashlights appeared in the darkness at the main communal gathering area nearby and started bobbing towards me, the rays of light nearly reaching my unwashed feet. The adults must have been meeting; meanwhile, I had just started on my hair, which transformed into a huge turbine of foam and bubbles. My sandals, headlamp, and clothes were somewhere on the ground but I couldn’t see where I dropped them. I started to panic. I looked around, desperately seeking solace, finding nothing but embarrassment instead. There was 100%, most definitely, unequivocally nowhere to hide. I felt a lot like this guy:
Foam mohawk and all, I wrapped the towel around my waist, gulped every ounce of pride, and just stood there, sheepishly nodding my head as the community members’ flashlights discovered me, some crazy gringo visiting their island. All conversations stopped and not a single word was exchanged as they passed me. They went to their respective homes for the night and as for myself? Well, I still had another Nalgene to empty.
*Pretty embarrassing, right? This story is just as bad.