Tag Archives: toilets

Traveling in India: Toilet Terrors

Ancient Greeks had it rough but not that rough.

I have had some pretty interesting toilet adventures when traveling. Mexico City didn’t flush their toilet paper but had open garbage cans beside the toilet for people to put the soiled pieces into, which was especially disgusting. Singapore required you to squat in the right direction and if you didn’t flush they would fine you. Britain used something akin to parchment paper with the absorbency of stone. But India was perhaps the place where I experienced the most travails. I was there for two months and on top of that, contracting dysentery meant I had many intimate moments in the can.

Toilets (or ditches, troughs, or trenches) could always be found but if you’re of a culture used to sitting, the other style can be a challenge. Squatting is something that takes more work if you don’t continue to do it from childhood. The muscles and tendons shorten and it’s not as easy to even achieve a full squat without having the feet jutting out at 45 degree angles. In Nepal, while on the bus, we’d pass people on the side of the road, just squatting right down, arms wrapped about their knees and doing their business, watching the cars go by. I presume they used their hands to wipe as they do in some Arab countries but I never asked. And after seeing one man walking along and blowing a booger into his hand and then flinging it, I didn’t want to know, nor shake anyone’s hands.

On one trip, there was a little shack where they served up rice and dhal bat (some sort of lentil stew that I can’t eat because of food sensitivities.  Behind that brick shack was an old piece of cloth over a very short vestibule. At the back of this was a thin culvert (about six inches wide) of water running through. You squatted over that culvert of water and did your business. Toilet paper isn’t something the locals use and they probably shake their heads at our finicky ways.

My time in Meghalaya was fine since every home had flush toilets with seats and the Khasis tend not to squat at home though I’m sure they’re used to the squat version too. By the time I made to Delhi I was desperately sick with dysentery. I didn’t know if I would puke or have diarrhea or both at the same time. The worst version of toilet is the one that combines the squat with the Western style. These were porcelain toilets with no seats that people squatted over. It’s much easier to squat full to the ground, than halfway as if you’re skiing. And if you’ve ever been so sick that you just want to lay on the floor and hang onto the toilet, well, there was no way to do that with this style of toilet. The floors were filthy with everything including the grunge from using a toilet. And the porcelain rim, without seat was just as mucky. What to do (as they said in India). Try being steady when you feel like fainting and vomiting into the fecal void. I hated this toilet style most of all.

The most adventuresome one was taking a train from Delhi (it might have been Varanasi) to Calcutta. It’s a long train ride and eventually you’re probably going to have to use the toilet. I waited as long as I could, partly because I didn’t want to leave my pack alone. But eventually I had to go. I wore long skirts a fair deal in India because they were cooler and because it was culturally more acceptable. On the train, the toilet is only a hole in the ground, where you can watch the tracks shooting by beneath. In fact, you’d never want to walk along the tracks there because everyone defecates onto the tracks. I can’t imagine it being pleasant at all.

So here I am in this darkish metal box, bunching my skirt up about my thighs and squatting down. What does a train do when it moves? It rocks, so there was a bar to hang onto. But being a Western person I also used toilet paper. One hand is holding up my clothing, one is hanging on to the bar. How do you wipe yourself? It took some judicious bunching of fabric and balance. My fear was I’d fall onto the disgusting floor and contract a disease.

But I managed. And I brought my own toilet paper know it’s not something used by all cultures and it’s a good thing I did or I would have been using my hands. And after seeing the Ganges River, with ashes from the burning ghats, dead cows, marigolds, people washing clothes, themselves and doing spiritual ablutions, there was no way I was going to touch the water. I was raised in the cushy Western society and I’m not used to other styles of toilets. But if I had grown up in Asia  I would probably sport a limberness that aid me in other ways. I still wonder what happens when a person gets too old and rickety to squat though.

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Archeology and Waste

? For some reason, even though I checked, WordPress did not publish this. A glitch in the system? Here is what was supposed to be Wednesday’s entry.

When archeologists dig around looking for artifacts there are several places that become treasure troves. Obviously where cities once were, and more, houses will relinquish many items of eras past. Various places that served as guildhouses or factories will have pieces that were considered of  inferior quality, or flawed some way. But the best place of all  to find treasures are the midden heaps.

These were the garbage piles, sometimes the leftovers of the latrines and garderobes. Castle toilets often just open from above with the waste falling down to a festering pile below. Some had troughs built and some might have been contained. But the best way to keep the stench down was to let some air in, even if the stench was below on the ground. Unwanted items and refuse went into various midden heaps. Garbage yes, but something worn out, something no longer wanted. Of course in the centuries past, possessions were hard won, made by hand and expensive to the common person.

A piece of clothing would be worn until it fell apart and usable pieces would be incorporated into newer garments, if they were salvageable. Utensils and dishes would be used through generations until they broke or wore out. Then they would be tossed on the midden heap. And of course, people have always lost things. Those who could afford a higher level of affluence would eventually toss out or pass to their servants an item they no longer wanted.

Our midden heaps of today are  landfills and garbage dumps. But whereas of old usually only the most worn out items would ended up in the dumps, now we have a plethora of discarded things. A thousand years from now, should humanity not have completely depleted resources and polluted the planet, there will be archeologists digging in our midden heaps.

This weekend I spent an hour going through my trough of pens, finding the ones that worked, unscrewing the ones that could be taken apart and trying refills in them. Not one of my refills fit these pens and though they say refillable we often just throw out the pen that has died. So yes, archeologists will find pens but perhaps fewer and fewer as they move up through the strata, indicating our greater dependence on electronic media. Yet, at home I have a glass calligraphic pen (Venetian), other calligraphy pens that use nibs to be dipped in ink or come with a cartridge, as well as ballpoints,  felt pens and pencils. I don’t use them as often as I once did but I do still use pens.

Our middens will contain numerous paper clips and pennies. Was any coin considered so beneath notice in Roman times or Rennaisance Italy? No wonder some places want to eliminate the penny (and make more money as a result). I’m sure there will be numerous hangers of wood, plastic and metal. These are the tiny items, along with buttons and zippers after the fabric has corroded away, that will litter our landfills.

Plastics eventually grow brittle and crack, breaking down and in a thousand years would only be evident if buried. So there will be some containers buried deeply, leeched of color and symbols. Glass of course perseveres for centuries so our dishes will still be there to check out. Clothing as stated, will deteriorate quickly, if it’s natural fiber but the polyester blends and synthetic-made-from-plastic-bags polar fleece will stick around a bit longer, though it’s still a plastic and will break down, even if it does take a long time.

And then there are the TVs, stereos, fridges, cars, phones, digital this and that’s and computers. Hundreds of thousands of computers. Archeologists will probably judge rightful conclusions from the fact that the midden heaps will be festooned with TVs and computers. And those conclusions will be that we were a wasteful society, that somehow these things gave out quickly (planned obsolescence–the worst idea to hit the last two centuries), that we needed them to survive or that we were a leisure society bent on possessions.

Well, yes, there it is. Waste not, want not. And unfortunately we waste a lot and want a lot, and our wastage will continue to leech into soil and water. Heavy metals, radioactive materials, plastics–they’re all changing our environments and if you wonder why were developing more and severe allergies, this is why.

But in essence, the future will be filled with archeologists trying to figure out what ran our society, what was prevalent, what was popular and cheap. Whether they’ll come away with that we were an affluent, decadent, careful or conservationist society will be in the making of each layer. I hope it’ll be evident before a thousand years have gone by that we started to change before it was too late.

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Outhouse Terrors

I talked about squat toilets and scary, dark toilets last week. They’re their own form of horror but none of them were that rustic, wooden box called the outhouse.

Many years ago when I was but a wee tyke, we visited some relatives out in Lac la Biche, Alberta. (I think it means deer lake in English.) They had a farm replete with chickens, cows, cats, hat and raspberry canes. And of course, like many farmsteads, there was running water in the house but it was built in an era before plumbing, and the toilets were outside.

I suppose as biffies go, these were probably higher class. There was a wooden boardwalk from the house to the outhouse. And it was a two-seater with toilet seats. My relatives were obviously comfortable sitting side by side and doing their business.

And so were my sister and me. During the visit we had to go out to the outhouse, at night. We took the flashlight and while sitting in the outhouse we were shining the lights about and making shadow puppets. I’m not sure how old we were. I’m thinking I was six and my sister twelve.

Anyways, after we were done peeing and playing, we went to leave…and couldn’t. The door was latched tight. On the outside was a simple wood toggle to keep the door shut when no one was in it. It had fallen down while we were inside and we started pounding and yelling. My sister, ever one to freak out easily, was screaming and crying, and of course I followed along. Here we were stuck in the dark, in a dreaded outhouse (luckily the fumes weren’t so bad) and with visions of perishing there.

Obviously that wouldn’t have happened. Someone would have missed us sooner or later and we weren’t going to die in there. But we were in the moment and hysterical. Of course the adults were inside yukking it up, talking and laughing and heard nothing until there was a lull in the conversation. They eventually came out (I’d say it was twenty minutes but it was more likely ten) and let us fly free, tear-streaked an terrified.

They laughed long and hard, and it’s laughable in retrospect but I wouldn’t go in an outhouse until I was about twenty-two. Scarred from that early memory, I refused any time we went to Banff or any outing, to use an outhouse and insisted on restaurants and gas stations. I was resolute. But as an adult, I met friends who had a cabin in Clinton, BC and of course, it was rustic. It took some effort but I finally got over my fear of outhouses, although they don’t rate highly on bathroom experiences as they are almost always smelly to downright gagarific, and often dangerous to tender skin.

In a pinch I can use whatever is available, including the great outdoors. I should also note that although I had been in Wazuubee of late I hadn’t gone to the bathroom there. I was there again the other night and they have in fact put brighter track lighting into their bathroom (although the whole place really needs an overhaul–it’s pretty shabby) so yay, less horrors there.

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Dark and Scary: Bathrooms

Restaurateurs, wherever you are, learn this lesson. No matter how dreamy, retro, romantic, funky or sporty your restaurant, pub or lounge, one thing you do not want ever, and I mean ever, is a dark and scary bathroom.

Maybe guys like pissing in the dark, though I doubt it because their aim is never that good, but women really don’t.

When I was a teenager, in high school, the janitors went on strike. I didn’t have the opportunity to see what state the boys’ bathroom ended up in but reports were the girls’ was the worst. And it was more disgusting than a pigsty, which really is just pigs wallowing in mud (and maybe some other organic matter). The girls stopped short of wiping their butts and throwing it on the floor but used tampons and sanitary napkins were spread far and wide.

It was truly appalling. In our me-me-me culture, women are as bad as men. There are those women who don’ t like to sit on a toilet seat because of germs or because someone sprinkled on the seat, so they squat above. Some also come from cultures where squat toilets are the norm. However, some of these squatters spray everywhere because there is a larger space in which their non-aim can go. Unlike guys, we don’t have a hose to direct.

I think half of these people leave the bathroom stall, having flushed, but not wiping the seat, because they didn’t touch it, or they don’t care and are ignorant of other people’s use. Sometimes it is the toilet’s fault where the water splashes up when the toilet is flushed.  In either case, I tend to check and wipe the seat before I leave. After all, I try to leave the toilet how I would like to have it found.

When I enter any sort of public/restaurant bathroom, I always check for toilet paper and then put some down on the seat. The few times I haven’t checked, thinking I’m safe I’ve had the misfortune of sitting in a wet spot and there is nothing more disgusting than sitting in another person’s urine. Ick!

So bright lights for the toilets are tantamount. Romantic mood lighting doesn’t help there, nor when a woman is trying to fix her make-up. Glaringly bright fluorescents that give people green-tinged skin and makes them look like zombies is not optimal but I would take it over the dark and scary toilet.

One of the worst in Vancouver, is Waazubee’s on Commercial. It’s cramped with dark blue walls, doors that rarely close right and just too dark. Time for a reno, Bennie.

Of course the scariest toilets were when I was in Asia. Singapore had modern, flush toilets, but they were squat toilets. There was a hole in the floor (porcelain, mind you) with metal footprints on either side showing you where to put your feet, as well as which direction to face (it wasn’t always easy to tell). Being a big of a benevolent tyranny, they also had very large signs posted about the fines people would receive for not flushing. It was something like $50-100.

That was the luxury in the predominantly Asian squat  toilet. Some were a horrific combo, such as the porcelain bowl, absolutely filthy and stained, but with no seat. You had to squat halfway and that was harder than squatting to the floor. And try it with dysentery, not sure if you’re going to puke or have diarrhea or both. Yeah, that was way too much fun.

Then there was the long, unlit tunnel behind some ramshackle cinder block and brick building. You ducked and duckwalked in, past a tattered sheet hung on a string, and squatted over a runnel with some water trickling through. Fetid does not describe the odor in the hot Indian sun.

The experience of using a squat toilet on the Indian trains was something else. There was a bar to hang onto as you watched the tracks beneath the hole. As well, you’re swaying to and fro, which helps little with hitting that hole. Imagine trying to hold a skirt up, squatting and hanging on and then having to use toilet paper. That was a very interesting problem.

In Mexico City the toilets were usually brightly lit but few of them flushed. This wasn’t long after a big earthquake and their water table is notoriously low. If you didn’t bring your own toilet paper you had to pay some matronly senora for paper, by the square. But the worst was that because the toilets weren’t flushing, you did your business in them but put all paper in an open garbage can beside them. Imagine the smell in the heat of Mexican summer. Not exactly pleasant, and very very disgusting.

So, in retrospect a dark restaurant bathroom may be paradise but a lot of them could improve. The Japanese and some other European countries are big on bidets that wash and blow dry your nether regions. No paper is used and considering the number of trees we kill for toilet paper, it’s not a bad solution. In India they didn’t always use toilet paper either, or water. That’s why it was important to always always carry your own.

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