Tag Archives: toilet

On Toileting

Be aware that the following article is colourful, and may offend the sensibilities of the faint of heart. Or, you might just laugh your a** off.

As is the case with many travel epics, it has come to this, the point when the many exaltations of a grand journey are set aside temporarily, to focus on the simpler aspects of day-to-day living — sleeping, eating, and the subject of this article.

In addition to the many varieties of toilets we encounter, the complexities of their use are a regular topic of conversation among travelers. Here are some of the considerations.

Dirty toilets are very common. It’s quite common to hover or squat over filthy toilets while treading on urine soaked floors, even in the ladies room. You know that the floor isn’t clean when the Indian women roll up their skirts before entering to avoid them touching the ground. Patrick knows that it’s really bad when he can hear Diane dry heaving from next door.

A purse or bag is not an asset in these bathrooms, as there is nowhere to hang it. Because toilet paper is almost never provided, you need to bring that into the room discretely, and somehow manage to keep it off the floor during the whole procedure.

In most hotels, the whole bathroom is the shower. There is no tub, shower stall, or shower curtain. When the whole room gets wet it takes a long time to dry, so as a result, from the time we first use the shower the whole bathroom usally remains wet for the entire duration of our stay. So every time you go in to the bathroom your feet get wet, which is especially annoying if you’re going in the middle of the night and return to your bed afterwards. If instead you wear your shoes or sandals in, the floor turns into a swamp as the dirt from your shoes mixes with the water on the floor. The separate shower common in North America is definitely preferable.

We are often tested by cheap toilets that won’t flush with sufficient vigour as to get the job done. After several attempts, when confronted with a persistent floater, we’ve learned that you can fill a bucket and pour it into the bowl from a few feet above the rim. It works great.

The squat toilet is something that takes skill and experience to master. Not having the necessary flexibility requires a precarious balancing act on the balls of one’s feet. This is complicated by a slippery floor as you try not to pee on your feet. Lacking the necessary suppleness, stability must be augmented by touching something, but as minimally as possible. Diane prefers the one-handed water ski technique, while Patrick favours the two-armed elbow brace. The most sensitive part of the operation occurs when removing segments of toilet paper, as this normally requires two hands, making it a repetitive high-risk maneuver.

On a train, the difficulty level is further increased. Not only is everything stainless steel, wet, and at a minimum slick, but sometimes slimy, but the motion of the train makes balancing much more difficult. For some reason, the small bathrooms on the trains are exceedingly warm. Returning from the lou, it appears as if one has spent the last ten minutes doing squat-thrusts in a sauna. It often requires a cool drink and an extended period of recovery.

Another problem with train bathrooms is that you’re not supposed to go when the train is at a station, because everything just falls out onto the tracks below. It seems that more often than not, one just gets things moving when the train starts to slow. Some things can’t be stopped once started, so it would be helpful if all train restrooms were equipped with countdown timers until the next station. A good strategy is to only go in when you’re really good and ready.

Another challenge we face is the ‘pay and use toilet’. We find these everywhere, but especially in bus and train stations and sometimes in cities or parks. The concept is presumably that the small fee paid is used for the maintenance and cleaning of the facility. However, almost without exception, they are neither maintained nor clean. The attendant’s role seems be only fee collection. There is sometimes a mop in the vicinity, but usually in a dark, wet corner where it lays untouched. Even if it is used, it’s so dirty that it would just serve to spread the grime around. On a matter or principle, Diane refuses to pay at the ‘pay and use’ toilet unless they’re clean, and they’re never clean.

Every more perplexing is that there is often a difference in the fee depending on what kind of deposit you plan to make. For men this can be monitored by whether you use a urinal or toilet, but for women it appears to be strictly a matter of trust. Because it costs more, it is doubtful whether the women ever admit to anything more than a quick pee. Another problem is that you don’t always know in advance. Sometimes you’d like to keep your options open. And what if the anticipated result doesn’t materialize? Can you get your money back?

Some toilets in Africa and India are equipped with a metal bracket under the rear of the toilet seat that is connected by a tube to a separate tap on the wall. It appears to be a sharp piece of tin that is a cheap add-on. For months the usefulness of this device eluded us, and we were unwilling to risk putting it into practice. Eventually Patrick gave it a go. Through a tiny jet, it emits a horizontal stream of water so piercing that it could cut steel. Unfortunately or fortunately (depending on how calloused your sphincter is), because of its location below the seat, it doesn’t actually make contact when you’re seated. To experience its shocking effect, it appears to be necessary to lift the seat up, and then re-squat into the naked bowl. Small gyrations are then necessary to get coverage, but it is pretty important that this be done without making contact, requiring both strength and balance. Perhaps he was doing it wrong, but this certainly seemed to be an advanced and potentially risky maneuver given the cleanliness of the bowl and the razor sharp metal edge below.

Things are further complicated by the question of how to know when you’re finished? There is no tactile feedback as with the manual method. Should one stop based on feel, which would require greater sensitivity than we seem to possess, or is the exercise merely terminated after a reasonable time period. If so, how long? We may need further training to be able to maintain a squat for that time period.

Another issue is that the water emitted from this torture device is of unknown temperature and cleanliness. It would be nice to run it for awhile first, but this would result in a fountain as it ricochets off the front of the bowl. And what is one supposed to do in the meantime – stand up (ill advised), or maintain a parallel squat next to the bowl?

Unfortuantely our guidebook is silent on these topics.

A Taxonomy of Toilets

The following article classifies the many species of toilet that we’ve encountered on our journey. Although we are not trained biologists, we believe that we have now spent enough time in the natural environs of these commodes to make an initial classification possible.

The Sit

This is an elusive breed, very similar to that which is native in North America. They are generally found only at lofty elevations, such as mid-range or high-end hotels. They are domesticated and can be handled with minimal risk.

The Hover

The Hover is sometimes confused for The Sit from a distance, as they are members of the same family. On closer inspection the Hover can be distinguished because they are either lacking a perch or so foul that human contact is hazardous. These are observed frequently but should never be touched. It is therefore necessary to use one’s foot to prod them into action.

The Squat

The Squat sits lower to the ground, and is therefore harder to spot than The Sit. A Squat should only be engaged by an experienced individual with the necessary dexterity. There are three sub-species, the first resembling porcelain, the second stainless steel (usually found on trains), and the third a feral variety found only in small villages and which never leaves its burrow (so all you see is a hole in the ground).

The Hybrid


The Hybrid is a rare species, a result of human cross-breeding between the naturally occurring Sit and Squat varieties. It has the primary characteristics of a Sit, but when viewed from above has a broad corrugated rim which can be mounted only by the most skilled of handlers. Most collectors prefer one of the purebred varieties.

The Al Fresco

The Al Fresco is strictly an outdoor variety and has a wide-ranging habitat. In the
countryside, it can be observed almost anywhere, and includes both genders. In cities, it tends to be seen in alleys and vacant lots, and is more active nocturnally when males of the species are foraging. In Africa, it is sometimes spotted by deserted roadways where buses stop, with the males and females segregated to different sides of vehicle. Unfortunately, it is sometimes observed on the beach, despite the obvious risks. Even when you do not see it directly, you become aware of its presence by the sight or smell of its waste products, which are different than those of other mammals.

The Composter


Exceedingly rare is The Composter. In our experience, its range is limited to the African country of Malawi, and during our entire expedition we’ve only encountered two examples of this uncommon breed. It dwells in close proximity to humans, typically close to lakes or environmentalists, and has a very low impact on its habitat. The finer specimens of this species are coloured so as to fit into their surroundings, and may utilize potted plants for camouflage. This creature has two digestive tracts, switching back and forth between them every six months to allow the other to process.

The Tiger Trap


Like tigers, this species is both very rare and very dangerous. The Tiger Trap disguises its large burrow with a latticework of sticks over the opening. This allows humans to walk over top, depositing waste into the hole. This is an exceedingly dangerous maneuver as the grid can easily give way, dropping the potential victim into the burrow. Also the grating itself is usually soiled and therefore slippery, and sometimes too flexible to support larger humans sufficiently. For safety, a Tiger Trap should only be approached in pairs, and never at night.