I wasn’t going to write for the round-up this week, but then I heard the topic was potties around the world. How could I resist? I only regret that we started in the FS before blogs and digital cameras existed, and so sadly, I did not take all the lovely photos of potties that I could be posting on my blog right now. Oh well.
First post: Bolivia. Notable primarily for the lack of potties of any kind. You could usually find a restaurant or something in La Paz, buy a Coke and ask to use the bathroom, but the indigenous people who are the majority there just do their business against the sides of buildings or in gutters. Strangely, they have no shyness about this at all, but don’t like to be seen eating. This is one of many reasons that Bolivia is a very odd, but fascinating place.
We joked while traveling out on the altiplano that we’d look for a sleeping llama to squat behind. There were no trees or other handy landscape features to speak of. Just scattered ruins and huts of various shapes and sizes. In reality, the solution was usually to pull off the road a bit (the altiplano being more or less flat), check that there no llama shepherds lurking about, open a car door, and do one’s business behind it. Always having TP, paper towels, and a bottle of water in the glove compartment, of course. No hand sanitizer in those days, at least not that I knew about. (Jeez, I sound older than I am. Maybe I should call this Grandma Kelly’s Old-Timey Blog….)
Second post: Guatemala. Notable (to me, anyway) for having at least some potties. Since I was pregnant for most of this tour, this was very important, and I wasn’t in a mood to be picky about it. Generally, we could find a roadside restaurant or something where a very basic facility could be used for a tip. Mamacitas are generally treated very well in Central America, so if a pregnant lady walks into a shop asking for a bathroom, someone will find one for her. Of course, they weren’t usually clean, and so I learned a valuable technique:
*****VERY IMPORTANT FOREIGN SERVICE TIP HERE*****
standing backwards over the toilet with my hands on the wall, which was probably the cleanest part of the stall, and daintily squatting over the seat without touching it. Dave Barry called this “hover-peeing.” That sounds about right.
There were a few outhouses, too (with which I had had some limited experience in the States, after all.) One day, I visited a village while seven months pregnant, and had to use the bathroom right that minute. We asked a local contact if we could use hers, and she proudly escorted me to her sanitario, which was a small shack in the backyard equipped with a platform with a hole in it. With a stack of newspapers at hand. But hey, it was private, and considering I’d made the mistake of wearing maternity overalls that day, I was grateful for that—and for strong knees!
Third post: Zambia. Again, notable for a general lack of bathrooms, however, there was also a general lack of people outside of Lusaka, so the car method worked pretty well. And there really weren’t very many places to go in the city that weren’t other people’s houses, so we didn’t actually need many public bathrooms. Yes, it was actually that boring. I don’t even have any good photos.
The little kids at post all ran around half-dressed, which had advantages for potty training. My daughter usually wore a t-shirt or sundress, and either an easy-to-remove cloth diaper, or no diaper at all. (I’d post a photo of a typical playgroup, but my daughter would never forgive me, and my blog might get banned or something.)
Most of the kids would make like African babies and just squat wherever they were and do their business when outdoors. It sounds kind of funny now, but we honestly didn’t even notice it after a while, and there were very few problems with diaper rash. Even indoors, I let my daughter wear a cloth diaper that tended to fall off a lot, because the floors were that awful and ubiquitous third world terrazzo so accidents were easy to clean up. (I just realized this sounds like we were potty-training puppies!)
Fourth post: El Salvador. Notable to us for many reasons after two years in Africa! There were lots of people, lots of places to go, and lots of potties, though usually not very nice ones. I refined my hover-peeing technique, and learned a few tricks from the natives, too. How to keep your toddler/preschooler from touching anything in the bathroom for one thing.
****ANOTHER IMPORTANT FOREIGN SERVICE TIP HERE*****
For little ones, take off their pants and hold them snug against your front with your hands under their thighs. Then aim them toward the toilet. (This works well outside as well.) Alternatively, have them stand or squat on the toilet seat while holding their arms to steady them and so they can’t touch anything with their hands. Got it? Don’t worry about getting the toilet seat dirty—it’s already unspeakable, so no one is going to be sitting on it anyway.
Fifth post: the Czech Republic. Lots of bathrooms there, though not always very clean. There were times when third world techniques came in handy. One very odd thing you find in Czech bathrooms, even those that are otherwise pretty clean, is a well-used hand towel hanging on the wall. It’s really very strange. It’s not like Czechs don’t understand germs. They are educated people, and they can afford paper towels. There is just about always toilet paper available, and usually soap. But whatever you do, don’t touch that nasty hand towel!
Another odd thing is that quite often bathrooms are totally unheated, and will even have the window open in winter. I know this comes from the Germans, who have the cleanest, coldest bathrooms in the universe (and do not hang filthy towels in them). I guess the idea is that cold kills germs, but man, it can get really cold in those parts! We all remember one particular bathroom in Rothenburg that could not have been more than 20 degrees Fahrenheit. As I recall, it was actually colder than the outside because the window had been left open all night and the tile walls held the cold. I believe I actually shrieked when I sat on the toilet seat. On the positive side, even if it almost killed me, there probably weren’t many germs living on it.
In Europe there are an amazing variety of toilets. In our house alone, we had toilets that flushed three different ways. They have everything from teeny buttons on the top, to pairs of buttons on the top or side so you can pick how much water to use based on the business at hand *cough* to Victorian-style pull chain toilets. (All totally fascinating to my son, who was three years old when we got to post. )
And then there are the toilets with the platforms designed to display one’s, er, results. I am not making this up. The Germans apparently have a real thing for examining their own poop. I was going to link to something to prove it, but I could find any pages that I would want my grandmother to click on. Suffice it to say that names for this type of toilet include “inspection platform” and “lay and display.” And that is definitely enough of that.
Finally, I do have one photo of a toilet in a small-town museum in Italy. My then-preteen daughter—yes the one who ran around au naturel for two years in Lusaka—totally freaked out when she saw this thing. It was hilarious. I was so happy for the opportunity to pass on some third world potty techniques.
It’s the little things, you know?