By Shameelah Khan
A group of young millennials, myself included, spent a week on a boat in Egypt trailing the Nile. The stretching emptiness of greying-water, fava beans boiling on a gas-stove and the stars filling up the sky above. The nights were cold and I felt the sting of ice against my skin in the mornings whilst performing fajr prayer on the desert sand when the morning light would greet us. On the last night, my stomach had caved in from the unfamiliar Arab-spices roaming around in the twists and turns of my colon. IBS, screaming into my mouth as I sighed an ache of “the runs” approaching. I was on a boat, comprised of a group of young millennials, myself included, and a wooden under-cupboard housing our bags and food supplies. There was no toilet. The toilet was the sand and the sand was stretched out before us. On top of this, it was that time of the month. I woke my aunty up because I was afraid of walking in to the middle of the desert to take, for lack of a better word, a shit. We found a space that had what looked like a bush and an subtract art installation of logs resting on top of each other clumped together. I pulled down my pants, handed it to my aunty, squatted, knees already caving in… “I need you to hold on to my hands- I can’t squat.” She held me tightly- firmly… for exactly…a few seconds. That is how long the process took. As liquid spices moving pieces left my body, a feeling of relief washing over me…this was peaceful… having my aunty witness my shit was peaceful….until..
She heard a noise approaching us and let go of my hands. A mixture of many things on my sandy-skin.
Mrs. Swart always had the weirdest high-pitched voice. She always corrected us when we called her mam and not Juffrou. Grade 7 was an Afrikaans nightmare.
“Juffrou Swart…Something is stinking mam…I mean Juffrou Swart.” Someone from the back of the classroom let out.
My eyes immediately shot to the girl sitting next to, Raquel. My eyes moved down and I had witnessed as diarrhea ran down her school uniform. The boy in front of us let out a huge “Sies-man” and Juffrou Swart asked her to excuse herself, whilst spraying air-freshener all around us. I wanted to so-badly pinch my nose but the smell had already infiltrated my nasal-capacity by then. She got up and made her way, whilst crying, to the bathroom.
I stared at the brown stain left in absentia.
Juffrou Swart asked me to go and check up on her. Why? Dear God?
I left, with a deep breath and the look of fear on my face as the rest of the class laughed, teased or continued to hold their noses shut as the smell had wafted through the isles between wooden chairs and horizontally-lined chipped-at-the-edges tables.
I followed the muddy-like trail and found her, crying into her hands, shit all over the walls and floor. The smell had become so bad that I couldn’t help myself but to throw up all over her.
That was a really kak thing of me to do.
My parents could not understand why I had had such a hard time potty-training. Then months later, they had realized I wasn’t unable to potty-train, I was just really constipated. Freud says something along the lines of developing many strange habits with the notion of control as an adult if one struggled to take a poopy as a baby. My mother had tried all sorts of remedies. Like shoving suppositories into the anus, like prune juice, like hot water, like a lot of milk, like cooked-porridge and strange-traditional-mixtures she had learnt from her grandmother. Nothing really worked, but I enjoyed sitting there, having her rub my back and tell me “it’s okay to let it out my baby.”
My cousin and I were taking a really filthy train to another city in another country. I was counting sheep whilst my cousin slept. We wanted to take turns in case someone tried to take something. Luckily, most were asleep. An almost-obese man walked sideways to get to the shared-unisex toilet and stayed in there for longer than he should have. I, of course, was trying very hard to keep it all in. I looked at my watch, only 12 more hours. What to do? I braced myself and walked toward the toilet after the man had left, leaving a trail of old-underwear and fermented beer behind him in the passageway. The toilet was the size of an elevator which about three women could fit into. The toilet (including the seat) was a disgusting blend of stool, toilet paper, urine and blood-stains. I looked at myself in the mirror, breathed out through my mouth and the thought had crossed my mind then “you wouldn’t.” For a good second I thought I had agreed with myself but instead, the animal inside of me got up onto that sink, let the water run and relieved myself. The next day, I realized that I needed to brush my teeth and decided…. Not to. This too shall pass?
I am known for having IBS, spastic colon, Leaky gut…and all that jazz in my family. It’s horrible. It’s challenging. It’s gut-wrenchingly painful at times. It’s nervous-shitting on repeat. It’s selective foods. It’s taking a chance with dairy. It’s trying to be vegan. It’s medicines every morning. It’s awkward situations at strangers’ homes. It’s my story.
I hate hospitals but I hadn’t been able to go to the toilet for almost a month. I was admitted. I remember being placed next to a lady who had lost her ability to walk. She had been in a car crash and couldn’t talk for a while but realized talking was not that bad when it came to her realization of immobility. “I just can’t do anything for myself.” She said that she was also suffering from a broken heart. I didn’t ever learn why, but I guess- being in hospital for a really long time does that. Or perhaps it was that she didn’t ever get any visitors. Or that she was a smoker and the designated area was a walk away.
My mother wasn’t able to visit me much. The one time she did, she brought me chocolate and told me that I had always been a constipated baby. That she would not sleep sometimes. That she would have to rub my back. That would help. I cried a little bit and told her that hospital made me feel like a child again. I had no control of when I would see her or when she would leave. I read a book called “The art of letting go.” Maybe this was psychological. Maybe I had a really shitty problem that had to do with love, attention, abandonment…
I had an operation done on my colon. I remember waking in a blurred state and mumbling random things as the anesthetic wore off. My mother was there and my grandmother. That was nice. I couldn’t walk or sit up. The pain was an exaggerated blow against my belly. I couldn’t walk to the bathroom at night. I had stitches that were healing.
The lady beside me was visited by her boyfriend. He kissed her forehead and handed her some flowers. She didn’t speak to him and looked out the window. He whispered “Ek is Jammer, I am sorry my love.”
My cousins had visited. “Don’t make me laugh guys….it really hurts.” I said as I held onto my belly suppressing my giggles. My physiotherapist interrupted us. They needed to leave. It turns out, I couldn’t remember how to walk that well either after the operation.
I woke in the early hours of the morning with a gut-wrenching pain, I rang the bell but the nurse didn’t show up. I really really really needed the toilet. I woke the lady next to me.
“Just breathe hunny.” She said, “someone will come…. I wish I could get out this bed and take you there.”
“It’s okay… I just really need to go.”
I was ringing the bell and the nurse was still not there. My body was curling into itself and the pain moved from my colon lower and lower… deeper abdominally, stretching into my lower back too.
The lady looked at me, “Just hold it in. Keep it in… someone will come. I promise.”
That’s funny, I thought.
The art of letting go.
Didn’t say anything about.
Keeping it all in.
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