Sunday, February 14, 2010

I want another bladder

posted Thu, 04 Aug 2005

One of the advantages of having white skin and blue eyes is that you can walk into a fancy hotel anywhere in the world and not be challenged. This is most useful if you are traveling in Latin America, southern Europe, Turkey, or, as it turns out, Morocco and need to pee.

Public bathrooms (i.e., McDonald’s) can be hard to find in these countries. Even the toilettes in the cafés in these countries can leave much to be desired. Let me warn you right now. If you are the least bit squeamish or proper, you are not going to want to read this post. It is all about peeing and pooping in not-nice circumstances. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

This is a Turkish toilet. It is actually more sanitary than a regular toilet, I think, because if you do it right, you don’t have to touch anything. Although most of the toilets I used in Turkey were regular toilets – only the public ones were like this.

OK. Those of you who are still with me.

Steve and I took the train to Casablanca this morning. Casa (as it is known here) is just a big city, albeit a big city with an incredible mosque. (Which we were not allowed to enter – the Rough Guide puts it this way: “non-Muslims, of course, are not allowed…” Of course. Can you imagine the stink if the Catholic Church suddenly restricted St Peter’s and the Vatican Museums to Catholics only?)

My first mission upon arriving was to find a place to pee. I have discovered that the train toilette is usually not the best place, although it will do in an emergency. Train and other toilets of its ilk are where those squats you hate to do in boot camp really come in useful. Only an amateur lets her thighs touch a public toilet.

We walked until we saw the Hyatt, veered right, and strode with complete confidence through the front door. I might add that we were dressed appropriately as well – Steve in khakis and a polo, I in a flowered skirt and a long-sleeved shirt. We looked like the two well-groomed middle-class fortysomething Americans that we are, not a couple of unbathed hippies who had been wandering in the bush for several months without the benefit of soap or laundromat. This look is key should you ever wish to use the toilet facilities at a fancy hotel.

I used this strategy throughout my ten-week trip overland from Chile back to the US after I completed my two years in the Peace Corps. When I was in a city big enough for a swanky hotel and I needed to pee, I would duck into said hotel if it was convenient.

Usually, though, I was on an overnight bus in Bolivia or in some tiny Ecuadorian town and had no choice but to use the local facilities. Shall I describe them for you? OK, I will.

First story. How about the toilet available on the bus trip from Chile to Peru? We are on the altiplano (the high plains) where there is almost no water. Really. There has been no recorded rain in the Chilean northern desert for 400 years.

There is a public toilet at this rest stop – you have to pay. I don’t have a problem with paying because this means someone is cleaning in between users and giving you toilet paper and besides, it gives someone a job. Hurray for the private sector.

The way it works is everyone pees or poops into a porcelain commode – the kind there is at home – and once everyone is done, the attendant pours a bucket of water down the bowl to flush it. You don’t flush when you are done – there is no water in the tank. Remember, we are in a low-water area.

I have been having – how shall I put it? – stomach problems.

Bad ones.

When I am finished, I tell the attendant I have to have that bucket of water.

No, no, no, he says. Only after everyone has gone.

Give it to me, I say.

No! he tells me.

You don’t understand, I tell him. You cannot wait until everyone else has peed. I have got to flush now.

He surrenders. I know all the other bus passengers would thank me if they knew.

Second story. I am in the public toilets at the bus station in La Paz. Yes, this is a very nasty place. “Toilet” is a strong word to describe the place. What it is is a series of three holes in the ground, with no doors or even walls separating them for privacy. The stench is horrible. I don’t want to touch anything. I don’t want to pee here, but I am about to get on a bus for five hours (a bus going over very bumpy road – the pavement runs out about an hour outside of La Paz, if I remember correctly – that’s the point where the driver opens his beer, too), so it’s pee now or forever hold my – peece.

I can’t leave my backpacks on the bus – big backpack, small daypack. I don’t dare lay them on the filthy ground. So I keep them strapped on – backpack on the back, daypack on the front. I balance carefully over one of the holes, squat down, making sure my butt is lower than my knees, trying not to touch anything. I realize halfway into the pee that I forgot to get my toilet paper out of the daypack, so I have to do that without losing my balance.

The whole time I am doing this, a Quechua woman and her little girl are watching me from the corner. “Wow! So that’s how those white people pee!” they are thinking.

Third story. Steve and I stop at a café today. I excuse myself to the toilette. It appears to be clean, although there is no toilet paper. Pas de problem – I brought my own. But when I lift the lid, I discover someone has been there before me and had not flushed the toilet. Not being one to pee on someone else’s number 2 (I do not want the backsplash, thank you very much), I attempt to flush. The flusher does not work.

Aha. That explains the bucket resting underneath the spigot next to the sink. I fill the bucket (really, could the person who used the toilet before me not have figured this out??), empty the water into the toilet and it flushes. Of course, the clean water splashes onto the toilet seat in the process, which means I must then employ the squatting over the toilet seat technique that I thought was going to be made unnecessary by the apparent cleanliness of the restroom.

That is why it is worth it to seek the expensive hotels.

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