Where Toilets Glow in the Dark

Once again I have let too much time slip by since I last posted anything. I can use excuses like:

I was traveling in Bali.


I’ve had a lot of work to do.


I’m so behind on Game of Thrones.


I was too busy lying on a beach.

They’re all true, but to be perfectly honest I’ve been suffering that disease all too common to those who love words: writer’s block. At work, I write blog post after blog post promoting responsible volunteer practices, at home I catch up on my favorite online publications, and on holiday I reread my favorite books. Every time I come across something inspiring I can’t help but think, they’ve got it together. I’ve been so consumed writing other people’s words or reading someone else’s thoughts I’ve forgotten what my own voice sounds like. I used to have things to say. What happened?

Enough is enough. The only way to get my voice back is to start writing again (plus I’ve got a whole four days until the next new Game of Thrones episode…).

Since I have been doing a lot of rather exciting things lately I’ve decided to begin my ‘voice’ search by documenting what I’ve been up to. Some will be short tales, others might be longer, some will probably be a bit dated and a few may contain more life observations than actual stories so bear with me.

Sorry for the awkward rambling. Here we go.


The ocean waves felt like bath water, warmed from days upon days of sunshine. It was too shallow to swim properly, not even three feet deep, but I could lie on my back and float. I slowly waved my arms back and forth across the surface and closed my eyes. This was my favorite way to relax back home. After a long day at work, nothing felt better than floating in my pool. The water in my ears would block out all noise except for my breathing and if I kept my eyes closed I could almost believe I was flying.

Gradually I let my mind drift. My friends and I had spent the past five days on Koh Tonsay, a small island off the coast of Kep. With no electricity, wifi, or running water we were truly living the island life, disconnected from everyday distractions. We’d roll out of bed (or in my case a hammock) and lumber to our favorite spot by the shore where we’d stay for the rest of the day. When hungry we’d order food from the family running the bungalows. Sometimes we’d order the crab then watch one of the little boys swim out to a basket tethered to the sea floor and retrieve four or five. Travelers came and went and whenever we noticed someone on their own we invited them to join us for dinner, traditional Khmer games, or for a few hands of cards. We all came from different places and were headed to separate destinations but were all on the island to relax and enjoy life.


Nearly lost in reflection my eyes flew open and I started laughing out loud. The previous day I had finished re-reading a worn and rather salty copy of my favorite book, Wanderlust, for the third time. In the memoir author, Elisabeth Eaves recounts her journey all over the world and I cringe with jealousy every time I read it.

One of my favorite parts occurs at the stories beginning. Eaves indulged her irresistible impulse to travel by taking a job in Spain as an English-speaking nanny. By day she looked after two tiny tots and at night explored her new surroundings with a boy named Pepe. One evening she dove into a pool in her underwear thinking it was just the sort of thing she “couldn’t not do.”

A dim sort of logic was at work: If I became the kind of person who jumped into swimming pools in her underwear after midnight, in a terraced garden on the Mediterranean, then a life that presented these sorts of opportunities would accrue.

Envious of her independence and throw-caution-to-the-wind attitude I always wonder how I could possibly make my life as exciting as hers. Floating in the ocean that day I realized, without even meaning to, I already had.

The night before our adoptive island family asked us to play some traditional games with them. We agreed (you can’t really so “no” when asked to play Khmer games…) and invited a couple French expats to join us. One game turned into five and before long our motley crew was huddled around a table playing cards in the candlelight. Like a mini-UN, we sat, ambassadors from England, France, the Netherlands, Poland, and the U.S.

I had been toying with the idea of a nighttime swim for the past several days and now seemed like as good an opportunity as any.

“I’m going to jump in the ocean,” I announced

Too lazy to change into my swimsuit I ran down to the water’s edge and stripped down to my underwear. Two of the French boys, Thomas and Maxime, followed and together we plunged into the sea, me giggling uncontrollably. The sand under our feet was still warm from the day’s sun. We splashed around, discussed the possibility of sharks, and I practiced my rusty French.

I had heard rumors there was phosphorescence in the ocean around the island but the full moon made it impossible to see. My mind raced back to a few nights before when my friend mentioned the barrels of water in the toilets had phosphorescence because it was pumped from the ocean.

“I think there’s phosphorescence in the toilets!” I shouted, and that was all it took for the three of us to barrel back to shore.

“We’re going to see the phosphorescence!” We yelled at those still sitting around the table.

Intrigued they rushed after us and we all packed inside one of the bathrooms, careful not to fall in the squat toilet. Inside there were industrial sized barrels full of seawater used to “flush” the toilet. Without hesitation, we reached our hands inside swirling the water. Immediately tiny blue specs illuminated. Because I am five years old I picked up a scoop and dumped it over Maxime. Within seconds the cramped space erupted in a glowing water fight.

I closed my eyes again, smiling while I replayed the previous night’s events. I knew should probably start packing what little belongings I had brought so I’d be ready for our boat off the island at noon. Holding my breath I submerged one last time, still laughing at myself for believing my life was boring.


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