Sunday, March 13, 2011

Squat Toilets

            There has never been something more frustrating to a Westerner than the squat toilet. In many third-world bathrooms, it would appear as if the whole bowl retracted downward, laying flush with the floor, two obvious foot placements, and, well, nothing else. I have heard stories of Westerners downing anti-diarrhea pills just so they wouldn’t find a need for a bathroom, or teachers at poorer schools struggling through hours of bladder pain and then hobbling home just to use a euro-style loo.
            At times, western toilets gleam like porcelain thrones compared to some in Nairobi, Kathmandu, or your pick of distant outpost. But, many in our world leave much to be desired. For example, any bar bathroom on any busy night anywhere (especially the ladies). However, even the most pristine squat toilet leaves travelers quivering at the thought and slightly bloated when bypassed.
            What is it about them? Is it a belief that it represents a regression to our more animalistic times? As advanced peoples, we use thumbs, automobiles, and sit when we shit? Then again many decide to “hover” when confronted with any latrine that isn’t theirs.
            Yet, think what one is faced with when using our sit toilets for the first time. In many cultures, the bottom of the feet and left hand are considered dirty, much because of their contact in the bathroom. So then to place ones bare ass where one usually puts his feet, following all the other bare asses that came before his, must appall at the very least.
            Not only have we raised the porcelain two feet to our bottoms, but we’ve added the comforts of comfy seats, soft lighting, air fresheners, and reading material all for what purpose? To prolong our stay in our own toilets? Are we insane? We spend more time in our bathrooms than any other culture. Why? Comfort? With that smell! Solitude? Only if no one else is banging down the door to get in.
            So earlier this evening as I squat in my Nepali toilet- no light, a wretched smell, and baby wipes balanced precariously on my knee- I thought: What is stranger? That we have gone to great lengths to make our bathrooms more enjoyable for longer stays or that in some toilets one squats?

The inability to multi-task in a squat toilet, may stand as its main fault and reason for the rise of its western counterpart. The squat toilet prevents all multi-tasking, even in its primary usage. As a man, I’ve always relished my ability to write my name in the snow in different fonts, but this also requires direction and control. However, when in a squat toilet, fending to hold ones pants above the squalid floor, direction and control are gone. And like an uncontrolled firehose, it goes everywhere, including the ruin of my ego.

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