Saturday, April 14, 2007

Squatty Potties

This is one of those subjects you don't really want to talk about, but have to. At least, you do if you're in a country like Iraq.

If you will be offended by frank discussions of bathroom necessities, I encourage you to find another post to read. You need not bother yourself with this one!

Thank you.
Two weeks before I left on this trip, I wrote to my host, Bob:
One of the most mentally burdensome issues for me as I think about this trip: The squatty potties.

I have confronted a squatty potty two or three times in my life. I hated the very thought of using it. Talk about filthy and smelly! . . .

As I contemplate a week and a half of being in an area with such facilities, I realize it is almost impossible that I will avoid facing some extended periods near a hole and . . . messiness. And all kinds of questions arise:
  • How do you balance yourself for such extended periods?
  • When my system is acting up, I can't tell where the [unmentionables] will fly . . . which means, if I leave my pants down around my calves, I worry about possibly soiling them. . . . But to remove them completely (considering the filth that was on the floors of the h*ll-holes I recall!) . . . I can't imagine such a thing. So then I wonder: what does one do? Is there some kind of discrete "instruction book" to which you could refer me? Any coaching someone can provide? . . . I have this sense that a person who grows up in such a society is taught early on how to deal with all extreme circumstances. But I did not. . . .
  • What are the "rules" and conventions concerning "public" v. more "private" potties? (I have been in an airport in India (???) that had no doors . . . )
Perhaps some others would appreciate "hearing" answers. Or maybe I'm the only true neophyte.

He wrote back very graciously:

Let me see if I can set the squatty potties problem in its narrow context. First, the use of squatty potties begins after we leave Diyarbakir. . . . We will be staying at hotels in [Iraq]. In every hotel, I believe, there is a western toilet. So we are talking about problems during the day, when we are with our friends, and when we are traveling. When I use a squatty potty, I balance myself by putting my right hand on the wall behind me. There should be privacy, including a door, in each place. . . .

I am glad you are coming, and proud of you for coming despite the dread of what you may have to face. You can ask me anything at anytime without embarrassment.
His answer put me at ease, and I was fine with what he had said . . . until I got to the Turkish/Iraqi border and I was finally ready to have a movement. I brought a small quantity of toilet paper into the stall with me but found it barely adequate. Adequate, definitely. But barely so.

Meanwhile, someone came into the stall next to mine. He finished his business much more rapidly than I did and I could hear him using the water: sloosh, sloosh, sloosh!

"What is he doing? How is he doing it? How do the natives make this work?"

I got out and asked Bob for the details. "I mean, if I had grown up in this society, I would know. But I did not. Someone has to teach a child how to deal with all these kinds of things when she or he is growing up: 'What you do when you have to go #2. What you do when you vomit. . . .'" [As I said: excuse me for the details. But these are real concerns!]

Bob, ever the joker, said, "Come on! In America, with sit-down toilets, no one had to teach you! . . ." [Ri-i-ight! --Sarcasm.]

Bob answered straightforwardly and without embarrassment.

"You use your left hand. You wet it, then wipe yourself. Wet and wipe until you're clean. . . . Just be glad that you have water and don't have to use sand!"

"'Sand'!" I said in amazement. "What do you mean?"

"If you don't have water, then you use sand. And it gets really itchy on your backside until you get someplace where you can use water again. . . ."

[!!!!!] "Did you ever have to use sand?!?" I asked.

He shrugged yes and walked away. . . .
Confession: I've "gone native" a couple of times since. Water on the hand, hand on the rectum. . . .


You get to know yourself in a whole new way.
I was talking with one of the men we met, a civil engineer who works on water and sewer projects. He was quite willing, himself, to talk about the relative advantages and disadvantages of the different restroom mechanisms in the world today. He mentioned Thomas Crapper ["Oh, yes!" --He's the guy who invented the modern airlock sit-down toilet system like what most of us use in the United States. Yes. Last name Crapper. Where we get our word cr*p and why a certain place is called a cr*pper . . .].

He noted (what I already knew), that it is due to the understood use of the left hand (to wipe one's bottom) that one should never pass food in this part of the world by means of your left hand.

"It also puts a different spin on the significance for a criminal of having his right hand cut off. . . ."

"Of course, they cut off thieves' right hands not in order to force them to eat with their left hand. But it is because they understand the right hand to be the strong hand," I commented.

"True enough," he agreed. "But it does add a new dimension of understanding."
And then one final meditation semi-related to this subject.

Someone commented yesterday: "This is a stooping, squatting society. You squat to go to the bathroom. You kneel or sit on the floor to eat. . . ." [I don't remember what other activities he mentioned one does on the ground or on the floor. But it resonated. . . .] "We can't minister effectively in Jesus' name unless and until we are willing to stoop to join those to whom we want to minister, just as Jesus squatted to minister to us. . . ."
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