“You’re using too much water.”
“I said, you’re using too much water!”
“I can’t hear you. I’m in the shower!”
“You’ve been in there for ages! You’re wasting water!!”
Jack turned off the spigot, grabbed a towel, and said, “Woman, I can’t hear a word you’re saying. That shower is simply amazing. What’s up?”
“You spend too much time in there. What are you doing? It’s just a waste of water.”
Jack stared at her, not so much in amazement—though he felt that—but in recognition. He wanted to say, “Jenna, you do realize we’re on vacation, right?” He wanted to point out the terribly obvious given the stupendous snow-capped mountain sitting on the equator just outside their hotel door that they were in Tanzania, specifically, to climb that stupendous mountain, the tallest in Africa, Kilimanjaro. But more than any of that, he wanted to put his hands gently around her neck – not to threaten her so much as get her attention – and say with a calm fortitude that he was confident, absolutely sure, that she knew they were in this lovely, if primitive resort, built in the middle of a bloody rainforest!
He said none of those things. Instead, he grumbled something about it having rained a lot recently evidenced by the small canyons in the nearly washed-out dirt roads they took to the resort.
“Still, it’s a bad habit of yours. You need to be more respectful of the environment.”
“They get 116 inches of rain every year. It’s the wet season. And anyway, and I know you know this, the drain runs right back into the ground. And we’re using that god-awful biodegradable castile soap.”
This was a new argument. Not new in the sense Jack’s green sensitivities would never match Jenna’s, and that was always an issue, but new in that they were on an eco-tour adventure where the only eco they encountered was in the online brochures from the trip organizers and the deep dive into their investments to pay for the trip, which was more econ than eco. That, and the complementary castile soap in the bathroom had barely come up. There wasn’t any need for guidance over the use and reuse of towels; the ‘rustic’ resort didn’t change them. Jenna did instruct the smiling, polite, and uncomprehending locals about recycling plastic bags and not just tossing them onto the road. She had gotten at least one young man to pick up a bag, add a large stone to it, and lob it deep into the surrounding forest. “Now not in your way, Memsahib,” he said with a grin you could see from a mile away.
One of their tour guides tried to apologize for that. He said that, traditionally, food and things were wrapped in banana leaves, or coconut shells, and were simply thrown away after use. People were adjusting to bags and such. The country had a campaign to fight littering.
“Well, it doesn’t hurt to remind them,” said Jenna.
She and Jack got back at it about the shower. “Jenna, dear, I’m all for conserving things, but water in a rainforest really isn’t a problem. You don’t tell people in the Sahara to stop wasting sand or Eskimos—”
“Inuit, not Eskimos…”
“Okay, or Inuit that they’re using too much ice in their martinis.”
“Well, with global warming their ice is rapidly disappearing. I went to a lecture on that. And are you being stupid or just insensitive? The Inuit, like many aboriginal peoples, have a serious alcohol problem and to use martinis…”
“Oh, jeez, look at the time! Cocktails in the lounge…I’ll order something without ice.”
Jenna rolled her eyes. Jack, taking sarcastic pride in his comebacks and infuriating tolerance, smiled to himself. They dressed in their best, which is to say worn, stained, and ruggedly comfortable adventure travel clothes—organic cotton—for dinner.
She was, according to Jack, a social justice warrior with a vengeance; a Shiite Unitarian, he would tease until she admonished him for insulting Shiites and Unitarians. And admonish him she did. Political correctness was, for her, not merely a habit but something that had become a ritual to be followed with all the warmth, humor, and compassion of an SS storm trooper in a Russian winter.
The following day, they went on one of their pre-Kilimanjaro hikes to acclimate before the big ascent. This was on the lower slopes—7,000 feet up to 9,000. The point was to get their red blood cells working ahead of the attempt at Kili’s 19,341 ft. Neither wanted a lack of oxygen to get in the way. They’d put so much effort into getting in shape, not to mention the $23,000 cost of the climb and post-climb safari.
The stars were still twinkling when they’d gone out with the guide who went by the name of Pray Good. They were a good six miles from their lodge when it started to rain. For the first time in either one of their lives, they got a sense of what torrential actually meant. Half an hour after it started, as it continued coming down in buckets, Pray Good asked if they were getting wet. Jenna was sitting on a rotting stump, pouring water out of her boots while Jack offered that his skin was soaked right through to his skin.
Pray Good smiled with a, “Yes, sahib, it gets like this.”
Jack looked at him curiously and asked why he called him “Sahib,” an Indian word.
“Ah, they taught us that in school. I majored in tourism, and they told us that Americans like it when you incorporate local colloquialisms into the interlocution.”
“Interlocution?” said Jack.
“We had a student teacher from Oxford. Anyway, I sometimes will say “bwana,” but a black man from Brooklyn—a thoracic surgeon at Lenox Hill—pointed out that it made white people feel uncomfortable. Unless they are from Texas,”
“Call me Jack. That’ll be fine.”
“I’ve been calling you Jack, sahib, all day, but you’ve not responded.”
Jenna chimed in as she wrung out her socks, “He’s like that.”
“Marital bliss, Pray Good,” said Jack.
Pray Good smiled slightly, knowing better than to get involved with arguing Western couples at elevation in a rainstorm after hiking for miles. He told them that it could get slippy in the mud, which was surely thicker on the trail back to lodge. He also advised them to pull out their hiking poles. “And poh-lay poh-lay, slowly slowly,” he added. “Hakuna-Matata, bwana!” and laughed himself into a frenzy.
He was right. The mud got thicker, but he hadn’t mentioned deeper, or that it would flow off the steep mountainside like lava from an erupting volcano, except that it was cold and added about twenty pounds to their already heavy boots. “Hakuna-Matata!” Pray Good would say every few hundred feet “Poh-lay, Poh-lay.”
“Damn it, Pray Good, I couldn’t go any poh-layer if I wanted. It’s like swimming in, well, mud,” griped Jenna.
“Take off your boots, memsahib, like me. The mud feels lovely squishing between the toes.”
Jenna removed her boots, tied her laces together, and suspended the boots around her shoulders. The organic vegetable dye from her laces leeched a bright red band around her neck that resembled the traces of a failed hanging. The slimy mud from her deteriorating boots oozed into her failing waterproof and breathable rain jacket.
“This jacket of mine sucks,” she said.
“I told you to buy Gore-Tex instead of,” – Jack made air quotes as he spoke – “that sustainable crap.”
“Polyfluorinated chemicals are in Gore-Tex. Greenpeace says so.”
“You’re an asshole.”
They slipped and slid down the trail when Pray Good turned to smile at the boots dangling from Jenna’s neck. “Memsahib,” he asked. “Do you have another pair of boots?”
“Yours seem to be melting.”
“They’re made from recycled tires. The others,” she choked a bit as she spoke it, “are ballistic nylon.”
“I made her buy those,” said a contented Jack.
“Let the rain wash away your problems! Hakuna-Matata!” yelled Pray Good, who had stripped down to his shorts. “Also they can waterproof those other boots at the resort.”
When they arrived back at the lodge, a grateful Jack gave a beaming Pray Good a healthy tip, as a shivering and filthy Jenna forced a smile and “thanks” and asked a clerk in the lodge for a hot cup of anything.
“Ma’am, I’ll send some sweet tea to your room immediately. But I advise a very long hot shower.”
Jenna looked up at him with a resigned expression. “I’ll be quick.”
“No, no, ma’am. You don’t want to catch a cold before the big climb! Leave those clothes outside your door. I’ll have the maid wash them. Three times. We have plenty of water. They’ll need it.”
Jenna turned to a grinning Jack. “Don’t say a bloody word.” She marched off to their room leaving a muddy puddle behind each step.
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Love the title. .....
Thank you all for the likes and comments. This story is somewhat close to home but then so are most of my stories. I climbed Mt Kilimanjaro with a TV show "Born to Explore" with my eco-phile wife. They wanted a late middle-aged couple and liked my angle of having had a heart attack on an airplane. True story. There's a photo at the bottom of this blog I have, https://iratestrategist.com/. The fellow clapping is Good Luck. Pray Good snapped the photo.
Really funny story! Sometimes it's hard to tell reality from satire anymore. There are lot of people these days like Jenna. Also loved the chance to get a glimpse of another culture. I doubt I'll ever go to Africa myself, so I appreciate your taking me there with this story. Pray Good's character was truly hillarious!
A entertaining story of opposites working (kind of) against a beautiful , but challenging backdrop. Well paced with good dialogue.
Bravo, David! When one of the locals lobbed the carrier bag filled with a stone into the rainforest like a bola, I chuckled big time. Seems like a thing that would really happen. The dynamic between Jenna and Jack (and the guide) and their individual attitudes towards the environment worked really well, and the humour you added to this was fantastic.