I could not think of a more fitting day to launch my blog than the official UN World Toilet Day. You can read more here about how toilets have played a significant part in my life.
We’ve all got a horrible toilet story. Some of us have more than a few…
There was that one time I clogged the toilet at a friend’s house and her father had to clear it out with a special hose because after over an hour of both of us trying (with jumpers pulled over our noses) it didn’t budge. While it did bring my friend and I even closer together, I still struggle to make eye contact with her father to this day.
I remember the sheer terror of having to use my first ever squat toilet in a rural village in Cambodia. Thankfully it was just for a wee but it is certainly a skill I had not yet mastered. I tried to cover up the wet patches on my pants on my walk of shame back to the bus.
I faced a dilemma every time I defecated in Peru. Even in swish hotels, it is requested that you put your used toilet paper in the bin provided rather than flush it. When I read that first sign, a cold shiver of fear ran through my body. They want me to do WHAT?! Do I be a good global citizen and avoid damaging the country’s sewerage system or risk the chance that my roommate would be exposed to traces of my excrement? The struggle was real. I was grateful it wasn’t ‘that time of the month’ as well.
Try having diarrhea in Egypt when little six year old boys are dispensing the toilet paper outside every public toilet in exchange for ‘baksheesh’ (a small tip of around one pound). You’d be lucky to be handed five squares, which was not going to cut it in my situation. I’d need to take out a mortgage to finance my food poisoning.
On many trips to developing or non-western countries, toilet paper and tissues become like currency and you protect your stash of your precious wet wipes in Gollum-esque fashion. I suspect hotels would have astronomical toilet paper expenses as western tourists like myself would stock up before heading out into the wilderness that is everyday life in their country.
On the trek up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, I tried to utilise a squat drop toilet but there was a massive turd deposited on every side of the hole so there was nowhere I could even place my feet. I had to go behind the wall of the toilet in the open and just hoped the fog was enough cover to allow me some dignity.
At my volunteer accommodation in Kenya, the toilet flooded on a daily basis so we employed the ‘If it’s brown flush it down, if it’s yellow let it mellow’ approach to flushing as none of us enjoyed stepping on the soaking wet towels on the toilet floor.
And then there was Nepal. At the final tea house before reaching Everest Base Camp in a tiny village called Gorak Shep, I encountered the most unholy stench that I still dry retch at the thought of. This odour was the result of what smelt like weeks of human waste, piled up to reach only centimeters from the top of the seat – not that you would entertain the idea of making contact with that kind of health hazard. Also, keep in mind that at this point we were at an elevation of over 5,000m so oxygen levels were low. At that altitude, I could only hold my breath for a matter of seconds before desperately gasping for air. I needed a lie down after each expedition to the loo to recover from the ordeal.
This is one of the nicer squat toilets in Nepal and surprisingly (for me) the only photo of a toilet from my travels that I could find.
I try and remember these experiences when I might feel inclined to whinge about the skid marks or stray pubes you often find in public toilets here in Australia. These experiences have also made me appreciate the fact that my life has never depended on having access to a toilet, unlike over 2.3 billion of our fellow humans*. Being forced to defecate in the open can lead to diarrhoeal diseases, which is one of the world’s biggest killers of children under five. I implore you to read more here – *World Health Organisation fact sheet (July 2017). It doesn’t make for great dinner party conversation but it sure is important to be aware of.
So if you wipe your bum, why not wipe it with something that is not only made from recycled materials but also helps build toilets for those in need? Switching to Who Gives a Crap toilet paper is a simple way to make a meaningful difference in the world and you can do it today.