Stirling, Scotland - The interpreter whispers to me, "You can shit in the outhouse but you can't piss in there."
"But that's physically impossible," I whisper back.
He lifts his index finger to get the mediator's attention and repeats my objection in Dutch. The mediator replies, and the 40 or so people in the circle give raised hands to show approval. A consensus has been reached: we can piss and shit in the outhouse, but if we have to pee only we must go in the bushes by the river.
Too much acid screws up the eco-toilet compost system, and on this campsite, keeping eco-friendly is a top priority.
Organized for G8 protestors, the temporary village occupies a bumpy valley shadowed by lush Scottish hills 20 or so kilometres from the G8 power centre at Gleneagles.
We're in the camp's Belgian neighbourhood with other ill-represented French-speaking countries... like France. Agreements on each area of camp life are reached with the help of hand signals: raised wiggling hands for approval, lowered ones for disapproval, a raised fist for absolute objection.
Someone's suggestion to switch to English or French from Dutch is met with several raised fists, so we continue with translators. After a few hours, the first meeting is adjourned and we go to a large walk-in black tent for dinner. Tomato-bean stew, Moroccan spiced cabbage, potato salad, green salad, brown rice and flax bread are heaped onto my plate.
It's all vegan and organic and super- crazy-tasty-delightful - not the bloated rice with curry powder and limp tofu one might expect. Like every duty on the campsite, the meals are prepared by volunteers and are free if you're too much of an anarchist to own money.
After dinner, a representative from each neighbourhood goes to a larger organizational meeting. All the decisions reached in the earlier meeting are brought forward and discussed until a camp-wide consensus is reached. This works for toilets and housekeeping today, but the same system is later used to plan demonstrations and coordinate large chunks of the camp. This first large meeting lasts several hours and is followed by a campfire that burns into the early-morning hours. Here in the north, the sun never really goes down, but fades to a fairyland glow.
Shuttle buses are coordinated throughout the week to bring us back and forth to different demonstrations all over Scotland. My plan to visit castles or other landmarks in the afternoons soon disappears.
Sometimes I stay put because of the overzealous imported police from London, but more often because of the pull of the eco-village and its fenced in freedom. I lie on my stomach in a white tank top on muddy grass. I talk to whoever is next to me as if I've known them for years, even if they only speak German. I wear my glasses and never even consider the option of eyeball-searing contacts. I eat feasts cross-legged by the campfire and donate or receive leftovers if I'm too full or still hungry. I dance to the samba, ska and hiphop groups that perform late into the night as if no one were watching. Actually, as if everyone were watching because I suddenly realize that I and everyone else is a superstar dancer.
We take turns listening to the radio to hear news and then meet to plan the next day. I stop changing my clothes or brushing my teeth, these daily rituals forgotten back home with my cellphone, e-mails, nail file and mirror. I forget what I look like and make my decisions based only on how I feel. And I feel beautiful even though I smell like, well, shit.
The utopian week ends in a rush as riot police crowd the entryway by the hundreds and many people's bail conditions force them to evacuate within a few hours.
My plane arrives in Toronto in the early morning. The sky here is also weakly lit, but the glow is from buildings instead of the barely hidden sun. Wearing my new favourite outfit of baggy, muddy leggings, disintegrating flip-flops and clumpy hair, I run to the airport bathroom to see what I've looked like all this time.
The dirt streaks on my face are strangely appealing. The platinum blond at the next mirror, her facial features completely buried in a makeup mask, gives me a clownish grimace. I bus home and fall asleep on my face atop my blanket, still in my clothes.
I wake up midday to do random homecoming errands. But first I go to my bathroom mirror excitedly, this still being a novelty. This time I'm underwhelmed by my reflection. It's now much different than it was at the airport. My forehead is covered in blemishes, my hair's a mess. My leggings no longer make me feel sexy and free but heinous, ridiculous and 12.
I pluck my eyebrows until my eyes water enough for my contacts to slip on easily. I apply two moisturizers to my face. I straighten my bangs. I change into tight jeans and try on four shirts. I apply fucking eyeshadow. I finally leave the house, making a call on my cellphone as soon as I'm out the door.
I make eye contact with no one. I look at my neighbour's forehead when I ask about her garden and walk away without hearing the answer. A family strolling and filling up the sidewalk pisses me off. "Quit walking so slow... stupid family. I have lots of shit to do," I yell in my head. (I'm just going to buy detergent.)
I pass them on the street. Their slowness makes me notice how I slow to check myself out in every reflective surface - stomach profile, bum profile, bum from the back, upper thighs. When I'm done scanning my body, I look at my face. My mouth is frowning and my eyes look worried and blank.