One Sunday, about a month ago, I had a FRUSTRATINGLY BENINESE DAY. There was a series of events involving cultural differences and plain rudeness that rubbed me the wrong way, followed by an unfruitful and sunburn-inducing house hunt. In order to get over my FRUSTRATINGLY BENINESE DAY and into the mood to ENTHUSIASTICALLY START MY NEW JOB the next day, I went to a nice Thai restaurant with one of my best friends.
The Thai restaurant was a little oasis in the middle of the bustling city. Eating curry out of a coconut with a waterfall fountain running soothingly beside me, I almost felt like I had left Benin for a small, much needed break. It was like hitting a reset button. After a collective sigh, glad that this day was over and sure tomorrow was going to be a success, we left the restaurant.
We were staying at a hotel because the peace corps hostel was full, which meant we needed to find moto taxis. My friend found one and flagged him down. I was scanning the road, looking for another, when all of a sudden, I found myself in the ground. My friend looked over and I was no longer there. It was like a cartoon—I was Wiley Cyote and had unwittingly fallen into an open manhole.
Once I realized that I was in a manhole (in the splits, one leg out, one leg in, maxi dress stretched to its fullest capacity, weight resting on my helmet which luckily I was carrying and caught on the edge) I quickly found SUPERHUMAN POWER caused by adrenaline, and lifted my entire body out with my arms, landing neatly on both feet. My friend says this was a very graceful maneuver, which might be true only compared to how clumsy it is to fall in a manhole.
When I was on my feet again, we inspected me to see how bad the damage was. It didn’t look terrible. The moto taxi driver who we had already called over told me I should sit down, which I thought was a good idea. I went to sit on the back of his moto, and he said “Not there! On the ground!” I said “What?! No!” He said “SIT ON THE GROUND!” I said “DO NOT TELL ME WHAT TO DO!”
Luckily, about then, another moto taxi pulled up. Quickly, we discussed whether or not to go back to the peace corps office where there were medical supplies or just go to the hotel. The peace corps office was full of people and as my adrenaline wore off, I was trying not to cry. So I chose the hotel, and off we went. We get to the hotel, check in, and I start walking up the three flights of stairs to the room. “I may have a breakdown as soon as we are out of the hallway,” I warned.
I was correct! As soon as we entered the room, I started hysterically laugh/crying. I was laughing because I had fallen in a manhole and that is ridiculous and hilarious, but I was crying because it hurt VERY MUCH. Upon further inspection, my bleeding was just delayed, and now my leg and toe looked terrible. I really couldn’t even tell what was going on with my toe, but my leg had two gashes in it, one on top of an already huge knot on my shinbone.
After assessing the damage, we decided my wounds definitely needed to be cleaned out. My friend went back to the peace corps office to collect medical supplies. I called another friend and hysterically told him what had happened, unfortunately waking him up by wailing “I fell into a manhole!” into the receiver. Luckily he calmed me down by talking about economics books, which I can only maintain so much enthusiasm for.
My friend arrived with another friend for backup and with medical gloves, gauze, iodine, and alcohol wipes, they helped clean me up. I stubbornly said I was going to do it myself, and then couldn’t reach, so just laid back while one held up flaps of skin with cotton swabs and the other poured on iodine solution. It was uncomfortable, to say the least, and as the last vestiges of adrenaline left my body, I began to shake like some sort of drug addict going through withdrawal, which I’m sure made their job even more difficult.
Loaded up on Tylenol, I went to sleep, knowing that the next morning I would have to call my supervisor and say that I could not start work because I had fallen into a manhole, which is just the first impression I was hoping to make.
The next day, I went to the peace corps doctor who cleaned out all of the wounds again and said something comforting like “It is good you didn’t die. Many people die when they fall in manholes. You know, head trauma.”
It has been about a month since I fell into a manhole. Since then, I have not taken my eyes off the ground. I left Bante for reasons of health, and I haven’t been sick since I moved to Cotonou, but the city has its own menaces, as I have learned through experience.
Anyway, I can finally walk normally and only have one scab left! I think I’m going to have a wicked scar on my shin, but at least I have a good story. And my toe, which I thought was broken and looked much like a cherry tomato that had burst its skin when it became overripe, is right as rain. I don’t even think I’m going to lose the nail.