In response to Jenny’s post about the photo her friend sent her of an ancient potty-training chair, I found myself rooting around for this photo from my trip to Africa: Look inside that open door. Notice anything missing? Yes, you got it – a toilet seat. Or even a wooden bench with a hole in it. This, my friends, is what we “affectionately” referred to as the “squatty potty”. You just hike up your skirt or shorts, squat down with your butt hanging over the hole, and do your business. With practice, you can actually get everything IN the hole instead of beside it – or worse, on your foot. After one of our travel companions, while trying to get used to the squatting position, dropped a few shillings down the hole, we started referring to our “business” as “dropping shillings in the hole”.
When you’re doing the kind of travelling I did in Africa (visiting remote villages, staying far from any tourist attractions), you have to get used to dealing with squatty potties. Not all of them were this bad – in some of the nicer establishments we stayed in, they looked a little more like this: See the shower head on the wall? In this particular hotel, the squatty potty doubled as the drainage for your shower. And, if I remember correctly, you were supposed to gather as much of the water from washing and showering in that bucket as possible, so that you could save water by using that for flushing.
Are you tempted to go to Africa yet? When I shared these pictures with Jenny, she said she was going to kiss her toilet. (I’m still waiting for the pictures of THAT!)
I love travelling, and I look forward to going back to Africa, but I have to admit, washrooms provided the greatest challenges for me. One never feels particularly clean when you have to squat over a dirty hole in the ground and only occasionally find a water source close enough to wash your hands. And (guys, you may want to skip the next sentence), if you have your period, like I did during my trip… well, you can guess how “lemony fresh” I was feeling. Add the oppressive heat and the dust, and the lack of showers in some of the places we stayed, and you have the makings of a fairly stinking bunch of travellers stuck in a bus together for hours on end.
One of my bleakest moments in Africa happened in a washroom. Thankfully, this was one of the few places with a western-style toilet, because I spent much of the night on it, doubled over in nauseous agony. In my sickly stupor, I glanced up at the concrete wall in front of me, and there perched a happy little gecko munching on his night-snack – a very large cockroach. Ugh.
The truth is though, I can’t wait to go back. Africa is amazing, the people are fascinating, the experiences are exhilarating, and the scenery is incredible. I want to fuel my soul with their stories again. I want to be touched by their hospitality. I want to hear the joy in their singing. I want to listen to the wisdom of the community elders. I want to watch the children dancing in the village gathering-place. I want to be humbled and honoured when they share a meagre meal with me. I want to relive that breath-taking moment, watching the uniform-clad school boys dash off to school singing, while the sun rose over the accacia trees. Once in awhile, in this efficiency-obsessed western world, it does us good to squat over a hole in the ground for awhile. Sometimes, in the giving up of conveniences and the acceptance of simplicity, we find ourselves more connected with the earth and the people who walk on it with us.