I once read about a study in which an orangutan was placed in a room with a couple of crates on the floor and a bushel of bananas hanging from the ceiling. The aim of the study was to observe how the animal used the materials at hand to try to get to the food. In the end, the orangutan was smart -- or hungry -- enough to stack the crates on top of one another and climb the resulting tower until s/he could reach the bananas.
I was reminded of this study this evening when I found myself in a similar predicament. Unfortunately, there was no food involved, but my problem-solving skills were definitely being put to the test.
I should preface this story by establishing that I love living in an older house. You just don't find the same combination of hardwood floors, high ceilings and huge internal patios in Santiago's newer buildings. The downside, however, is that the years appear to have warped a few of the wooden doors and their frames. This is especially noticeable when the weather changes and the wood swells or contracts accordingly. Whenever it rains, I know I'm in for a shoving match with the front door.
Apparently the heat had gotten to the bathroom door today, because when I turned the knob to exit into the hallway, the door didn't budge. So I turned the knob harder. Nothing. Tried to wedge the door open from the side. Still nothing. Pounded on the door with both fists and shouted expletives at it. Nope.
I was trapped in my bathroom.
I leaned back against the door with a sigh and surveyed the situation. Nobody else was home to come to my rescue. There was a window that opened out into the aforementioned internal patio, but it was too high for me to hoist myself up to from the ground. I had at my disposal a trash can too unstable to stand on and a toilet far enough away from the window to require a jump.
I couldn't help thinking that if this had been a movie, the room would be filling with water or hourglass sand. And that the orangutan would have figured this out by now.
Figuring that a change of perspective couldn't hurt, I climbed up onto the toilet and stood staring at the window. I could reach the windowsill if I extended my arms and leaned forward, but the rest of me would have to be briefly airborne if I wanted it to get there, too. Seeing no other option, I channeled my inner Spiderman and jumped.
The sharp pain that bit into my stomach when I hit the windowsill reminded me that I was no superhero. I knew I was strong enough to pull myself up onto the ledge, but every time I started to wriggle upward, I felt like I was scraping my internal organs against pavement.
After I slumped wincing back down to the ground, I checked out my stomach in the mirror. I looked -- and, hours later, still look -- like I'd lost a fight. Apparently, I could rule out a career as a circus performer, SWAT team leader or ninja.
Vocational crisis aside, I still had an escape to plot. I could have really used some crates.
When I looked around, though, all I had were towels. And then I had an orangutan moment.
I folded up one of the towels and draped it over the window ledge, then stuffed the other one into the front of my shirt. The result was a painless second leap for the window. Anyone who had seen me climbing up onto the ledge and out onto the patio would have surely wondered what kind of ninja act that frazzled pregnant gringa thought she was pulling.
So it was that I shuffled back to the house sore and dirty but free. A few minutes later, my roommate walked in the front door.