I stretched out flat upon the cool, white tiles of the veranda and tucked the sheet in around me. This wasn’t where I’d planned on spending the night, but then very little of what had happened during the last day had been a part of my plans. I was on a journalistic adventure on the Philippine island of Luzon – a whirlwind tour of everything Filipino – and I was sick.
Not just ordinary sick, mind you, but an “everything-inside-of-me-has-turned-to-mush-so-please-don’t-block-the-bathroom-door” kind of sick. That this was the result of wheat consumption was undoubted. Our American guide had been doing her best to convey my dietary needs to those whom we encountered, but I couldn’t help wondering whether the fusion of the Tagalog word “walang” (without) and the English “wheat” was really going far enough to explain that I had Celiac Disease.
Either way, the damage was done and I now found myself in a lovely little resort hotel which, according to the website, boasted hot and cold running water and flush toilets. That this was a minor exaggeration became evident the first time I’d turned on the shower. Cold water dripped from the faucet… then dribbled… then dripped some more. Beneath the tap, sat a bucket which caught the excess gray water and it didn’t take too long to realize that this was the “flush” for the toilet.
Growing up in the northern U.S., I had never encountered a “bucket flush” before and it was with some distinct interest that I took a crash course in what appeared to be an art form. It worked something like this: in order to flush the toilet, you have to hold down the handle and literally throw the water from the bucket into the bowl. If done properly, this forces the contents of the bowl into the pipes and gravity then draws everything down towards what I presume was a septic tank. (I was honestly too sick to care.) If done improperly, i.e., with the wrong amount of force or at the wrong angle… well, you got a mess.
I had been up and down all night practicing the procedure and had just finally started to drift off to sleep when my travelling companion (worn out from fear that the gecko which had invaded our room might drop on her in the night) began to snore like a chainsaw. I stuffed a pair of earplugs in and covered my head with a pillow, but to no avail: it was like trying to sleep with a construction crew. After what felt like an hour (but was probably only ten minutes), I gave up, tore the sheets off my bed, and headed out onto the veranda.
It was actually quite cool out here and, surprisingly enough, relatively bug-free. I tucked myself in, placed my hands behind my head, and gazed up at the sky. The moon was full and the equatorial stars blanketed the blue velvet. I listened attentively to the tropical birds housed nearby while, in the distance, I could hear the waves of the West Philippine Sea lapping the rocky shore. It was a world of wonder so very different from my home and filled all at once with things so foreign and so familiar. It was as if the world had ceased its turning, leaving me there alone in the moment. And I could feel it: the joy of discovery that had brought me on this trip to begin with. The sheer wonder of a bucket flush and a full moon.