Adult Fairy Tales

I’ve been struggling with my second novel, The Adventures of Infinity and Negativa, for the past five years. Along the way, I’ve experienced some powerful insights.

The first came when I concluded that I didn’t have the means to pay a graphic artist.  My solution? Paint the beginning of each chapter, which always began with the title characters, exploring some mathematical-logical or physics topic.

The second insight occurred a few weeks after the first. Like a woman taking the longest time to birth her first child, the first canvas took the longest to complete. As a work around to my sense of perfectionism, which had prolonged its completion, I reasoned that the main character, Nuru, was the artist rather than me. This distancing silenced my inner critic and added another dimension to Nuru.

The third insight woke me up one Saturday morning. Since my first novel, Tribe of One, had romantic elements, I’d self-identified as a romance writer. I’d even joined both the national and local chapter of THE romance writers’ group. This particular morning, I realized Adventures was not a romance. I had a clear vision of exactly which changes needed to be made in order to advance the narrative. This insight led to the first major “slashing” (too brutal to be called a mere “editing”) of the manuscript. Although I stopped self-identifying as a romance writer, I continued my membership with the national group since I enjoyed the informative articles in their monthly magazine about craft and the publishing industry.

The fourth insight ushered in the second major slashing where nearly all the minor characters were eliminated. Not only that, all the fabulous dialogue, transitions and descriptions, which were no longer relevant all bit the dust. Stripped to the bones, the manuscript had quicker pace, but little richness. At least I added the true antagonist, Lauren/Lolli.

The fifth insight stopped me from painting.  I’d been completing canvas after canvas at a pretty good clip up until I painted myself into a corner. The problem was, each successive painting looked markedly better than the last; so I couldn’t reorder the opening of the chapters since that would cause me to reorder the paintings. With the first fourteen chapter openings set on canvas, I could only tighten up that writing although I could completely change the rest of the chapter, which I did with total abandonment.

The sixth insight guided the rearrangement of chapters fifteen through twenty-two. At some point in my writing career, I’ll learn how to outline a novel. Until then, I’ll continue writing by the seat of my pants, acknowledging that the occasional major chapter shuffle must take place.

The seventh and latest insight occurred at a recent writers’ workshop. The workshop explored feminism in fairy tales. Our facilitator introduced the topic by giving us a brief background about fairy tale structure. I went pie-eyed. I stopped myself from jumping up and shouting “Eureka!” What a profound revelation for me. The discovery that I write adult fairy tales.  Even Tribe had elements of a fairy tale.

The facilitator suggested a short reading list, which I added to my never-ending book list. Then, I did online research and discovered a 31 fairy tale structure checklist. Adventures satisfied nearly all of them. At the end of that blog post, the author had a bibliography, which rounded out my fairy tale reading list.

One good thing I have going for me is my nonbelief in “writers’ block.” Every time my writing productivity wanes, an experience which some writers attribute to the dreaded “block,” I see it as the result of stubbornly writing along without analyzing if what I’ve written advances the narrative with integrity. Each flash of insight has dutifully reported after I’d honestly asked myself, “Where am I going with this?”

To regain direction, I resort to the same ritual. I hit “caps lock,” select “bold” and type all my think-out-loud thoughts about the characters and plot. Without any judgment and barely any punctuation, I work through what needs to be done. Sometimes, it’s chapter rearrangement. Other times, rethinking of the plot or a listing of things that need to be researched. I consider it writing mediation, bringing out the best in the narrative and advance it to a close–or at least close enough to make it worth my while to pay for a professional editor.

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Fools’ Paradise

14 me reading

Welcome to the Land of Milk and Honey. Home of the Brave. Land of the Free. Where the streets are paved in gold. The sun’s always shining unless we’re dancing in the rain. So turn that frown upside down. This is no place for any Ned Negatives or Debbie Downers.

This is Par-a-dise, baby! Unlike Fantasy Island, all your dreams come true here. You can have any and everything you want. And you can have it now. That’s right, no waiting. This is where everyone is number one. You just have to want it and you can have it. You can have it all ‘cause you deserve it all.

And bigger is always better. Why settle for fun size when you can supersize it? Why take it slow when you can have fast? You should’ve had it already. You should‘ve had it yesterday.

Now I know what you’re thinking. You were born poor or brown or gay or disabled. I’m here to tell you, there’s no need to dwell in the land of disenfranchisement. You can still have it all if you want it all.

You wanna know what the great equalizer is? You wanna know what all the rich, beautiful, sophisticated, upwardly mobile Americans do? They live on CREDIT! Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover…these are the golden tickets to paradise! You allergic to gold? Well, you can get your ticket in platinum, silver, honors, advantage, preferred, premier, select, and DIAMOND. They’re not just a girl’s best friend no mo’!

Nobody who’s anybody slaves away for paradise. When you got all these credit cards, why they’re just as good as money. You pay off some shit and buy mo’ shit. It’s all about taking shortcuts, leveraging loans, zero percent financing, floating checks, robbing Peter to pay Paul, taking the financial leap, braving the freefall. Y’know it’s not the fall that’ll kill you. It’s the sudden stop! So you gotta spread your credit card wings and fly.

SOAR. And buy more and more and more. You don’t keep up with the Joneses. You own those bitches! And buy more and more and more until you’re so massive the gravity of your possessions sucks in everything else. And it grows and spirals outta of control and it consumes your soul. And then you become too big to fail.

Can’t you see it? Heaven on Earth. As far as the eye can see. Everything is yours…for the fleeting moment, before BOOM.

All that remains is silence, the clothes on your back and what you can carry.

Act now, and you can start living in paradise for a special price. Just sign on the dotted line. Don’t worry about the fine print. And tell ‘em The Fool sent ya! (wink)

0 The Fool

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1st Year Freelancing Anniversary

The beautiful thing about trying something new is opening myself up to new experiences. As a highly analytical person, I strategize to maneuver through life as best I can. So, just before resigning from teaching science at a public school, I’d paid off all debt, made a budget and tested the freelance waters.

I found a couple of decent-paying jobs, which led me to believe I could maintain the same lifestyle while working from home. I actually thought I’d “figured out” how to transition from employee to freelancer–all in a couple of months.

Of course, reality isn’t as tidy as dreaming. Very little of the contract work I received overlapped. I always had some money coming in, but hardly ever enough to meet the budget I’d planned. One of the agonizing things was the delay in payment after I’d completed the work, invoiced the client in a timely fashion and had to wait to be paid long after the payment was due.

I reset my budgetary priorities. Much later than I should have, I started clipping coupons and paying attention to the weekly specials at the grocery store. All of my social interactions had to be justified by networking/recruiting opportunities.  No more pure fun, hanging out unless it cost less than ten dollars.

About a month before my most lucrative writing job ended, I included alternative teaching positions in my daily job search. When 2015 arrived, I had three job interviews lined up for part-time teaching/tutoring jobs. The end result: I landed the best job out of the three.

In the meantime, no telecommuting educational writing/editing jobs have graced craigslist.  Since I’m teaching Adult Basic Education and GED classes part-time, I don’t want a second job I have to drive to; so I know that I’m limiting my options.

At the same time, I’m still loving the fact that my schedule allows me to do yoga, write, read, cook, exercise and run errands in the morning and early afternoon. Once I arrive at work, things are relaxing and I enjoy my job, which seems very receptive to embracing the artist in me.

So far, I’ve motivated some coworkers and a student to participate in painting a canvas for charity and secured scholarships for two students to participate in an international poetry festival. As a matter of fact, when I dropped by registration to pick up my packet, the chairperson gifted me 40 tickets for the headlining poet, Nikki Giovanni! Such a tremendous score since this was on the same day we had our big company meeting and a few intense comments had been made during the reporting of the “highlights.” I was so happy to sweeten the mood a little by giving out the free tickets to everyone who could make it. Considering over half of my coworkers are volunteers, who have next to no disposable income, I’m glad I could include them in this cultural event.

I also had many free passes left over for the evening students who were interested in attending. None of my students had never been to the Austin Convention Center, where the show will take place. I even assisted one student with her online search of which bus to take to get there. She was so surprised at how close she lived to the venue. I hope most, if not all, of my students attend. This will be such an eye-opening experience, even if some won’t know what to make of it.

Nonetheless, I don’t feel that I’m making significant progress on finishing my second novel. There’s a part of me that is disheartened by the fact that I don’t have the money to self-publish it. Although that should not be a stopper, my sense of urgency isn’t where it should be with this story.

In the meantime, organizing the Austin Writers Roulette has continued to open doors for me. As good fortune would have it, the roulette falls on the same weekend as the poetry festival. As a matter of fact, it is the culminating event. I’m excited about having fellow poets, my two poet students and some of my coworkers all present during this time.

This freelancing business has landed me in an unexpected place. I’m fortunate to have the flexibility to embrace the adventure.


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Good Morning Kiss

Good Morning KissFor the second year in a row, I contributed to a museum art fundraiser, where a local art supply store donated a 11 x 14″ canvas, 3 tubes of acrylic paint and two paint brushes. Anyone interested in participating, picked up the supplies at the museum and returned a decorated canvas a week before the opening reception. For a month, people bid on paintings via silent auction with the minimum bid starting at $50.

Since “Good Morning Kiss” was my first canvas of the year, I wanted to do something a little challenging. Originally, only the woman’s hand would be in focus, her face would be slightly out of focus and the guy would be completely out of focus. Ha!

Of course my plan was far above my skill level, especially within the allotted three weeks I had to complete the mission. The biggest pitfall was thinking I could dab on paint and still come up with with something that approximated the human form.

I wrestled with making the guy look more than some blob hovering over the woman. He was actually grotesque to look at. Then, his beard and other hair looked wrong.

One breakthrough: the “arm” I painted for him to the left of his head, made a much better “leg” for her! As soon as I made that discovery, I dabbed on a darker brown hue. Had I attempted in the beginning to make that a leg, I’m confident it would have turned out perfectly as his arm! That’s the beauty of my painting talent–I accomplish more when I’m aiming for a different target.

I corrected his beard and hair, thanks to a movie I’d watched during the making of this canvas. Afterwards, I did their hair and signed it.

The best thing about only having three weeks to paint it was not succumbing to perfectionism. When I showed one coworker a picture of this canvas, he exclaimed, “Oh, this actually looks like art!” I took his comment as a compliment and hoped the painting will fetch a decent amount of money for the museum’s educational programs.


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Dollars & Sense

Strutting my way to Bikram yoga one day, I noticed a quarter lying on the sidewalk. Barely breaking my stride, I swooped down to pick it up. To my dismay, it was a nickel. Now, was this just a case of objects appearing bigger from a distance? Or the sign of the financial times that money didn’t seem to go as far as it used to?

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have bothered to pick up a mere nickel, with a dime being the smallest amount of money worth slowing my roll to retrieve. On the other hand, I have a sister who breaks for any amount of money, even pennies. She justifies this nonsense with the rationale, “That could be a wheat penny!”

Ah, yes, the infamous wheat penny. Minted from 1909 to 1956, wheat pennies have two stalks of wheat on the tails side. Wheat pennies value anywhere from 3 or 4 cents if in poor condition to around $10 in excellent condition. Most are made of copper, but steel wheat pennies were minted during WWII.

My ever optimistic, perpetually broke sister, who excitedly swoops up every stray red cent for the Holy Grail of coins, lives in a quixotic world of seeking something for nothing. Whereas I, the proverbial penny pincher whose time a penny is not worth picking up, am never broke. Even the rare times where I have incurred a debt to study or buy a new car, those loans were paid off well in advance, much to the lender’s chagrin.

Isn’t if funny how some people will waste a lot of time dreaming and scheming to discover treasure in plain sight or win big through state-sponsored gambling, such as lotteries and scratch-off tickets, but turn up their noses disdainfully at the thought of getting a temporary job so they can stop borrowing money to put gas in their car?

A penny for MY thoughts? You’d better put ten of them together. Better yet, toss me a quarter!



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Wraparound Boot Skirts

I got the creative, money-saving idea to make my next costume for the Austin Writers Roulette “Walk in Another’s Shoes” event. At the time, I hadn’t received my federal refund to rent or buy used outlandish shoes. So, I brainstormed wrapping my boots in decorated cloth.

Foolish me actually thought the decorating would take more time. I envisioned hand-sewing the cut ends of the cloth while watching TV. I even contacted a friend who loves crafting. She put me ahead of the game by sewing most of the hems on the two wraps and 12 ties, which really deluded me into thinking I’d have the entire costume sewn up, so to speak, in a matter of hours.

I feared making buttonholes by hand; so I put off the task for a week. Since I’d planned to attend a creative meetup where a costume designer would be present, I figured I’d get her opinion. In the meantime, I consulted one of my sisters who used to be an avid seamstress about making buttonholes by hand. Since she lives in another state, she talked me through the whole technique and answered my naive questions. During this conversation, I began to have an inkling of what I’d gotten myself into.

A few days later, the costume designer schooled me on a couple of things. First of all, the “wraparound boot skirts” were officially called “gaiters.” Gaiters are defined as protective gear worn over the shins. Since my creative endeavor was in no danger of being protective, I felt that my poetic name for them was better.

Secondly, the costume designer suggested the time-saving tip of removing two of the six ties on each wrap in order to sew them closer to where they could tie for a snugger fit. That way, I could avoid the whole handmade buttonhole business!
wrapSomehow, I became illogical after completing this first hurdle. I honestly thought I could decorate the gaiters in less time than I’d made them. I even researched how to attach the feathers, which was a a good thing since none of the research showed anyone using a hot glue gun…my original thought. In the end, I used a combination of heavy-duty double-sided tape, used to hang stuff on the walls, and HAND-SEWING!

Fortunately, the AISD superintendent called a snow day, which meant my evening Adult Basic Education class was canceled.  I spent over 5 hours arranging those feathers, taping them down, then reinforcing the entire shebang by hand-stitching the taped feathers to the cloth.

Oh. My. God. From threading the needle to driving that needle through layers of material with a thimbled finger, never has sewing been such a torturous endeavor!decoratedGranted, it was all worth the effort. After all, I’d spent less than $10 on materials, but that’s not counting my time.  As usual. 3 host's shoes

One of these days, I’m going to be compensated for the time I put into my art. Until then, I’ll just keep accepting donations for my monthly spoken word and poetry show. 14 boot attack

My wraparound boot skirts were a big hit that transcended species.  An adorable English bulldog puppy named Lily could barely contain her enthusiasm. In my yoga class, the instructors often talk about “English bulldog determination.” I got to experience first-hand, thanks to my footwear costume.

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Avenging Angel of Literacy

Avenging Angel of Literacy I hardly ever pass up the chance to dress up. So, when one of my coworkers solicited volunteers to help her run the Literacy Coalition information table at a local comic book convention, I got very excited. Now, this wasn’t the BIG, internationally famous comic book convention, but since it would be the first one I’d ever attended, I started dreaming up costume choices.

Given my enthusiasm for carrying a toy sword, I knew that accessory had to be a part of the ensemble. I took my black wings out of hibernation, along with my long black gloves, figuring they’d help to warm my arms if it was breezy in the lobby. In reality, if I had been cold, my shoulders would have suffered. Fortunately, the temperature was an inviting 61 degrees.

I called myself “The Avenging Angel of Literacy”. My backstory was I spoke up for all the literature (I’m using that word rather loosely) which had not been read since literate people are increasingly apathetic to making time to read a book.

I arrived before my coworker, who I lent my Storm wig and cape. I checked in and requested a table near an outlet. For some inexplicable reason, GPS had drained the hell out of my phone. No one had a compatible charger. Once a guy loaned me a gadget, which had multiple phone prongs, I discovered the coveted outlet didn’t work! Most of my original incentive for volunteering for this gig was the photo op. Thankfully, my coworker came to the rescue with her pictures. I certainly learned my lesson about not carrying my charger.

I stayed 5 hours to recoup the loss of wages during the “snow day,” where AISD had cancelled classes. As usual, the day turned out to be beautiful and sunny. I spent most of my time off getting another costume ready for the Austin Writers Roulette.

Storm & AngelA series of paneled discussions with cartoonists took place in the theatre. The only one that interested me was “Hire This Woman!”.  I’m always interested in how pioneering women in a male-dominated field strategize and derive inspiration. The four women were interviewed by a local female cartoonist. They all made references to comics/graphic novels and creators who I’d never heard of, which was not surprising since I’m not an avid reader of either. I loved their quirky, creative energy and passion to follow their art.

I was surprised how next to no one, including the cartoonists, dressed up. Certainly, the crowd looked interesting, but not in fantasy character.

I role-played a little after smelling cigar smoke while sitting in the lobby. I exited the lobby with a determined gait, looked around and found the culprit. I yelled, “You!” and unsheathed my sword and stuck it in the offending guy’s chest.

Although he immediately pleaded, “I didn’t do it,” all the while puffing away, I informed him that he was smoking just outside the door and his cigar smoke could be smelled in the lobby. Even the organizer, who was puffing on his cancer stick a few feet away, told the guilty party he had to be 15ft away from the door.

Justice was served.  Thank God I had my sword!


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Flame Retardant

The energy shifted

Her expression contorted

Pointed finger wagged in my face

Words shot out of her mouth

As I sat confused

Then the magic word



Fresh oxygen circulated

I took a deep breath

Explained I’d said the R-word

In reference to

An assbackwards TX educational policy

Not a person

Never would I say it

About a person


I’d stepped onto


Invisible Emotional Detonator

I shrank as she

Towered over my

Educated fool’s ignorance

Schooled me that the R-word

Was the bully’s go-to word

Years of parental advocacy

Had finally changed ‘mentally retarded’

To ‘intellectually disabled’

How dare I use the R-word


Sitting in awe of the

Human explosion

My creative mind

Failed to conjure

A peaceful resolution

An olive branch to

Make this

Less painful

Not all right

Not all equal

Not all better

My apology


Amongst the flames of her words

I was the umpteenth

Insensitive person

How many more

Would she have to

Clue in

Through verbal attack

To penetrate the

Thick skull of ignorance

The privilege of intellectual


Tossing around the R-word

Reminding her of all

The closed doors

The low expectations

The lack of funding

The lack of services

The lack of understanding

The lack of empathy




Once she’d stormed away

A sympathetic woman

Beside me

Confessed her use

Of the R-word

Only in reference

To things

Such as


Silently I nodded

In agreement

I’d needed a flame retardant

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Pubic Hair Cornrows

The pursuit of seeking logic behind anything the women’s fashion industry does is foolhardy since its sole purpose is to convince as many women as possible that she’s not wonderful the way she is, but can come closer to achieving the ideal beauty if she buys into their nonsense through buying their overpriced, sweatshop-produced clothing and accessories. Of course, ideal beauty is an ever-changing target that fashion-conscious sheeple perpetually hunt.

Becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer straight after graduating from college cured me from the nonsense of women’s fashion. As a matter of fact, I now wear secondhand clothing, except for shoes and underwear, and blend in just fine within the crowds where I normally find myself—for a fraction of the disposable income spent on such depreciable goods.

Yet, there’s an even more sinister fashion trend afoot. No, I’m not referring to the Cinderella glass-heeled stilettos since those have been around for a while. Nor the rise of the “plus-size” model being a size 8, which, by the way is my size. I could be a plus-size model if I wasn’t so short, according to the fashion industry, at a mere 5’5”.

What I’m referring to has no size nor height restrictions and lies beneath all the overpriced, sweatshopped-produced fashionista clothing. Yes, that’s right, I’m talking about pubic hair.

I’ve long known that we American women feel compelled to shave underarms, arms, legs and up until the last couple of years a mere waxing around the bikini area. Oh, sure, we all joked about the Brazilian bikini wax for years, but now that has become the new fashionable pubic hair normal.

A trend, which is my latest afflatus: my pubic hair prediction is now that all the fashionable women have lasered or waxed it all away, the pendulum will swing the other way. You see the fashion industry won’t sit still and allow all women to denude their nether region. Cutting-edge, trend-setting fashion means that the new thing has to be what most women don’t already have.

Hence, I proclaim that the next nether fashion will be pubic hair cornrows! That’s right. It won’t be good enough just to grow a natural tangle of pubic hair. Why, that doesn’t cost any money. No, in order to cornrow pubes, women must buy extensions. Some women may need pubic hair implants since all that waxing and lasering has left them permanently deforested.

So fashionable women can go into a salon to get her eyebrow, eyelash and pubic hair implants. This will be the season of hair reforestation!

And since men have pubic hair too, there’s no need for them to be left out in the fashion cold. After all, men and women are both mammals. With matching cornrows couples can do it better than they do it on the animal channel. They can caress each other between the cornrows. Add more sensual hairy friction to the bump and grind. The possibilities are as endless as the fashion industry’s craziness. Get your southern route cornrows today!

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The Hullabaloo

Her scream startled me awake. I listened. More noise meant I had to get up. Silence, I could linger in bed. Regardless, I closed my eyes again. I held the irrational belief my mosquito net protected me from all danger and hullabaloo.

Hullabaloo defined by my Merriam-Webster word-a-day calendar as “a very noisy and confused situation.” Of all the frivolous words that calendar had displayed, hullabaloo was the most applicable. Unlike many of the things Mom sent in her care packages.

No matter how detailed my longhand written letters described my life in this developing country, nothing seemed to penetrate Mom’s gargantuan happy bubble. She meant well. If nothing else, my letters provided her with exotic entertainment and bragging rights. Her smart, worldly daughter doing good in the world.

Far more useful would have been a Swahili word-a-day calendar. At least hullabaloo sounded as lyrical as Swahili. I bought green peppers at the market every week just to say, pilipili hoho. Beyond musical attributes, hullabaloo accurately described daily life.

The volume level of my rural, local neighbors equaled the noise of suburbs in the States. Lively, energetic conversations in sing-songy Swahili, regardless of happiness or anger. Lethargic packs of dogs during the day transformed into growling, barking mongrels at night. Roosters crowing all times of the day. Cows in labor. Bats flapping wings in the crawl space against our corrugated iron roof. And three distinct sounds of beating: the hoe against the earth, the machete against the crops and the small child-size wooden pestle against food held in its mortar.

Fully awake, my eyes refused to remain closed. The frantic shuffling of my roommate’s cheap plastic sandals against the concrete floor traveled into the kitchen. The clang of pots. Opening of drawers.

No need to get out of bed. I heard it all. Even through a closed door.

I’m an analytical thinker. A real problem solver, if you will. That could be a dangerous personality trait. Foreigners like me tended to rush into a country like this, roll up their sleeves and try to fix everything. Making a bigger mess than the original situation.

First thing we were taught in training: “Don’t just do something. Stand there!”

My roommate walked among us as if she was smarter than everyone else. Myself included. And the way she condescended to our local neighbors. I marveled at how they could still address her with such warmth and glowing smiles in their sing-songy accented English. Perhaps another cultural difference was their inability to pick up on condescension, as was the case with sarcasm.

However, her elitist attitude worked in my favor in this case. She’d try several solutions before conceding and knocking on my door for help. For my part, I gave her the time to resolve it. Whatever it was.

Whatever it was, ground zero was not in the kitchen. The shuffling had just traveled into the bathroom. Seconds later, clang-banging wrenched me from a supine position swifter than the most obnoxious alarm clock. Blood-drained induced stars dazzled before my eyes. If ever there was a time to do much of nothing, now was precisely that moment.

I leaned in closer to my mosquito net. Not that it improved my hearing. It just felt a little more comforting to be slumped to the side. My muscles relaxed into a sitting sloth’s position. My heartbeat slowed down. I continued my descent, hugging my knees and resting my chin on them.

She tapped out an erratic rhythm accompanied by guttural unintelligible chanting. My best guess: a long wooden spoon against the porcelain, Westernized toilet basin. Minus the toilet lid. Minus the toilet seat. Usually minus the running water through the pipes to flush it. With such a lack of comfort and utility of a true Western toilet, we didn’t even refer to it by its English name. No, the Swahili name was more appropriate: choo.

Short, quick and efficient. As one’s trip to a developing country’s bathroom usually was. If questionable food hadn’t caused harisha (doesn’t that sound more beautiful than saying “diarrhea”?), then the high oil content most locals used in their food meant it slid out as fast as it had slid in. Depending on the quality of the bathroom situation, one learned not to linger too long, especially when not using one’s own substandard choo at home. Some foreigners even became anal retentive about where they deposited their waste. After a while, their nervous system no longer supported such hyper vigilance and they went practically anywhere.

The arrhythmic beating stopped. I hoped that was a good sign. Now that I was up, I needed to go. The shuffling advanced in the direction of my bedroom. It stopped in front of my door. Illogically, I held my breath, willing her away. Yet, she knocked. At first hesitant, but a few seconds later, a little louder.

I sighed, reluctant to give the verbal cue for her to enter. “Karibu.”

The door squeaked open.

“We have a rat in our choo!”

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