Living abroad I learned I had a choice. I could bemoan what I did not have from my life back home, or I could go with the flow with what I did have. Newly arrived to Guayaquil, Ecuador in 1986, when I heard about Lydia, who made housecalls to give manicure/pedicure for the ridiculously price of about one US dollar, I made an appointment as soon as possible.
After that we saw each other weekly, a peaceful time to recharge my batteries. In the steamy afternoon un-airconditioned heat, I'd sit under a ceiling fan with my feet soaking in the sudsy bucket used to wash the floors. Her ministrations over three years did wonders for my previously chewed cuticles completely obliterating my long term chronic Athlete's foot.
When I first saw it, I was struck dumb. I know I gasped, but I had a brain freeze that couldn't remember the word for what I'd just seen dash before my eyes-- a rat running from the first floor guest bathroom toward the kitchen. Seeing my face, Lydia stopped in mid-cuticle trim to ask what I'd seen. Sputtering all I could say was "Mickey Mouse," though I knew that what I'd seen wasn't a cute, cartoon mouse.
At that moment the invader came back into my line of sign as Gary chased our dog Snoopy, who chased the rat, who dived back down the open toilet and disappeared.
We were stunned, but Lydia was not. Amused by my shock, she related that there were lots of rats in the sewers of Guayaquil and it was not uncommon for la rata to enter the house through the toilet. It didn't matter what neighborhood you lived in, the rats were unbiased visitors. I put a brick on the closed guest bathroom toilet.
The more I learned, the more appalled I became. Firsthand stories from the teachers at our children's school about how they'd been sitting on a toilet only to find a rat coming out for a visit. I reminded myself to never, ever let my kids know who else was going to their school. Or at least till they were bigger than the rats.
I realized this probably wasn't a "Hints From Heloise" column question, but wrote a letter to the popular column anyway. Oddly no one ever responded, which seemed rather rude. Did they think it was a prank? Ah those of little worldly experience.
So I decided to ask my peer group of expatriates. If you have an issue that isn't solvable by people who don't live where you are, I've learned to ask the locals. So it began with all the new--and almost everyone was new to me--to ask, "Hello, I'm Candace Drimmer. Do you know how to keep a rat from entering my house through the toilet?"
Then I met Charlotte. Having grown up in another port city, Lima, Peru, as a teenager she'd been surprised while in the shower by a rat that popped out of the toilet. Running butt naked out of the room screaming, her British mother had immediately sent out for a gallon of used motor oil. Of little value to an auto repair shop, Charlotte's British mother then poured about a cup or so down every toilet in the house, to grease the foothold of any rat who might be looking for an exit out of the sewers.
Though an ecological sin to do such a thing to the environment, this was Ecuador where open sewers and rats were ubiquitous. So I got the used motor oil and poured it down every toilet in the house to protect my family. It worked so well when we moved house, I repeated my rat-prevention technique and never again did a rat exit our toilet. Least of all, never that I ever saw.
But they were outside, in droves. I'd seen the ones scurrying about the garden both night and day eating the overripenined mangoes. As I walked down city streets in brilliant sunshine, I'd see rats on top of a household's garbage bare their teeth at me threateningly. So I always gave them a w-i-d-e berth.
Never mess with the rat. We'd made a deal. They could live outside if they left my family alone inside. Seemed fair to me.
Over the years this became The Story I'd tell about living abroad. To my never ending amusement I learned I could silence a roomful of people with the words, "The day the rat came out of the toilet into our home...."