SPOTLIGHT: STILL BREATHING
Date Published: November 17, 2018
Publisher: Acorn Publishing
Newly widowed and on the threshold of seventy, Lizzie Warton questions the value of her remaining years. Uncharacteristically, she decides for the first time in her life to do what she wants, instead of what everyone expects.
Against the wishes of family and friends, she sets out for Africa to work at a Ugandan middle school. When she lands at night in the Entebbe airport, her hosts are not there to meet her. Near panic, she hires a local taxi. The driver drugs her, steals everything, and dumps her limp body in a slum. Waking in the dark, she feels someone tugging off her shoes.
Without money, a passport, clothes, or medications, Lizzie is forced to start over and find a way to survive.
Soon she learns that nothing in Africa is as it appears. The grind of daily life in the third-world is beyond anything Lizzie imagined. Nevertheless, encouraged by budding friendships in surprising places, and against every sensible instinct she’s ever developed, Lizzie’s own personal search for meaning becomes the grand adventure of a lifetime.
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Lizzie carried a towel, some rags, a folded robe, a big bar of deep blue soap, and a pair of flip-flops. Meg walked just ahead of her, lugging a large plastic bucket of warm water in one hand and tapping the ground ahead of them with a long stick.
“We rent this house,” Meg said, “and the owner keeps talking about upgrading to indoor plumbing. That’d be nice but we’re afraid if he does, we won’t be able to afford the rent. So far, it’s just talk.”
They passed long sets of clothes lines near the back perimeter wall and approached a painted enclosure with two wooden doors. Meg pulled open the left side door and stepped inside the closet-sized room, setting her bucket down on the slightly canted cement floor. “As a result, you will have the pleasure of a more traditional clean-up experience.” She grinned at Lizzie. “I know, it’s not exactly the Ritz, but bucket baths have their own rustic charms.”
She repositioned the two small benches in the room, pushing one against a wall and sliding the other into the center of the space. Turning back to Lizzie, still standing at the door, Meg set down the stick and held out her hands. “Here, gimme those, and I’ll set things up.”
Lizzie handed everything to Meg who efficiently arranged the items in a practiced order, using the outer bench and some convenient wooden pegs set into the walls.
“Okay. Let me show you the basics.” Meg crouched over the bucket and pretended to cup handfuls of water and toss them onto one shoulder and then onto the other. “You just kind of get the water going where you need it to go. Then you lather up. Rinse off. Repeat. It’s not complicated.”
She snickered and patted Lizzie’s shoulder as she exited. “Wait’ll you have to do it with cold water. I’ll remind Musaazi to leave another bucket outside the door for an extra rinse.” She winked. “I’m sure you’ll need it after all you’ve been through.”
Lizzie peeked inside the stark, white painted room and her eyes grew wider—there wasn’t any roof! She heard Meg outside explaining the next room in the enclosure, so she ducked back out to catch up.
“This is the bathroom side,” Meg explained. “I know it feels primitive but it’s clean. Just pretend you’re camping in the woods and you’ll be fine. Most women carry TP with them. You’ll get used to it. Here, the boys do a good job of keeping ours stocked.” She smiled as she stepped out so Lizzie could get a look. “And they no longer steal it, so that helps.”
Lizzie stepped into the bathroom, reassured to see a corrugated roof above her. There were a few pegs in the walls and a hole in the cement floor with room for feet on either side. A generous roll of toilet paper was within easy reach, and a small shelf nearby held two more rolls. She heard Meg’s voice continuing so she stepped back out.
“I know this is a lot to deal with, but you’ll be fine. Now, I’m sure you’re anxious to get started. I’m gonna go pull together some breakfast.” She stepped off toward the house, then stopped. “Oh, and just drape your dirty clothes over the bath wall. Musaazi’ll gather ‘em up, and I’ll get ‘em washed. Okay?”
Lizzie felt dazed, but not unpleasantly so. “Okay.”
Meg studied her for a moment, unsure whether to leave. “You’ll get your feet under you soon. I promise.”
Lizzie cocked her head, uncertain.
Meg grinned. “You’re made for this place, Lizzie. I can feel it.”
“Yep. Despite this beginning, you’re gonna love Uganda.”