Cambodian diarrhea and locked toilet doors

For nearly a week I’d been pissing out of my arse. We had well and truly run the food gauntlet during our Cambodian holiday; dubious skewers of barbequed mystery meat from street vendors, plates of steamed tripe and fried liver prepared on dirt floors in ramshackle restaurants, ice in everything. You can’t avoid the inevitable and I was finally struck down by the traveller’s curse: the runs, the squirts, the shits. Whatever you call it, I had it bad.

I foolishly thought that it would be safe sneaking around the corner to grab a bottle of water. I didn’t time my run(s) very well, missing that five-minute window of gastronomic normality. I only got a hundred metres down the road before I had to dash for home.

With a severe rumbling deep in my bowels, I threw the key in the lock. The key turned and I was one step closer to relief. I twisted the handle and pulled but my only reward was disappointment. The lock had been catching for days but we hadn’t thought that much of it. Like all things unpleasant it was biding its time, waiting for the most inconvenient moment to stop working. The handle turned but the barrel was broken so the door remained locked.

I tried jiggling the lock, jiggling the handle. No joy. At this point primal desperation kicked in and I began yanking the door. I leaned back throwing all my weight on the door. It tested and teased, getting to the point where it might pop open if only I could exert a fraction more force. The problem was, the only potential source of explosive force lay in the wrong part of my body.

The security guard from our apartment wandered around to check the ruckus. I explained my dilemma in broken sign language — my limited Khmer didn’t stand up when subjected to the threat of a thorough pants shitting.

The guard went through what I’d attempted. He tried the key, jiggled the lock, jiggled the handle and then resorted to brute force. He failed dismally and suggested I try the back door. I shook my head. It wasn’t an option: I didn’t have the key and even if I did, the door was bolted from the inside.

Now I have been locked out of a lot of places: houses, hotels and pubs. In the past these instances were the result of:

  1. an informed and justified decision made by the proprietor of the respective establishment; or
  2. my own ineptitude.

Being a serial misplacer of keys teaches you a number of skills. You often dabble in a little recreational break and enter. There was the cat flap at Sercombe Grove, the second floor bathroom window at Lennox Street, balcony doors at numerous hotels. Years of bitter experience also taught me you can avoid these outrageous feats of flexibility through simple pre-planning; hiding a spare key in the backyard, taping a bent coat hanger inside the bumper bar of the car. I had done none of that.

I’ve got an eye for vulnerable entry points. I had assessed the situation: ground floor, bars on every window and no cat flap. I wasn’t getting into this place anyway other than through the front door.

Shifting my weight from one leg to the other provided temporary relief for the bum gun and I set about explaining the hopelessness of our situation to the guard. He was a picture of relaxation, in no hurry to take further action. Maybe it was my crazed look and shallow breathing, perhaps it was the disturbingly loud rumbles bubbling from the darkest depths of my bowels, but eventually he relented and rang the landlady.

Had I not been on the verge of shitting my pants the scene that followed would have been hilarious. I’m sure even Abbott and Costello would have applauded the senseless repetition.

The landlady arrived and the guard filled her in. Going through the same drill: she failed just as we had. She suggested we try the back door. I shook my head. The guard shook his head. The violent churning in my bowels was causing my arse-cheeks to clutch uncontrollably. Her unhurried calm showed she was happy to spend the rest of the day looking for a way in. I didn’t have a moment to spare. I shot her a look bursting with desperation and she rang her husband.

He arrived and the routine was played out again: key, jiggle, jiggle, ram. When he suggested I try the back door, I nearly punched him in the face. Instead, I closed my eyes and concentrated on anything other than a gushing flood of poo.

How many Cambodian locksmiths does it take to open a lock? Thankfully, only one.

The three of them began a long-winded debate in Khmer about how to proceed. I was left to sweat profusely in the corner. When they glanced across and saw me rocking, quietly whispering like a broken soul, commonsense finally prevailed and the husband went in search of a locksmith.

You can spend hours waiting for tradies but luckily for me (and those around me) this is not the case in Phnom Penh. The husband returned within five minutes, locksmith in tow.

Locksmithery is a mysterious art combining subtly and force. Unfortunately I wasn’t in a position to appreciate the skill of that particular tradesman because I was busy foot hopping like a wino dancing a jig for a dollar.

After an eternity the locksmith chiseled out the lock barrel and the door opened. I burst into the house, a hurricane on heat, and locked myself in the bathroom to unleash the fury. There was sobbing, screaming, pain, involuntary grabbing of the bowl and ungodly noise from the full ensemble of my bum trumpet band.

I returned, slightly embarrassed, and offered the locksmith the money for his services. He looked at me like I had leprosy but took the cash carefully.

Relieved to have ready access to the amenities of home once again, I wondered how many weeks it would be until I could fart without following through.


Originally published at destinationq.com.au on October 8, 2009.

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