Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Squatter’s rights

Whenever international travelers gather in clusters of two or more, sooner or later the conversation turns to the worst toilets we’ve been confronted with.

I still remember my horror at the first squat toilet I encountered: a public museum in Italy circa 1996. Like most travelers I was wearing jeans and swiftly discovered this was not conducive to the task at hand, or rather, at foot.

If you see this sign in a public toilet, beware! It is not, I REPEAT NOT, a drawing of someone sitting in a go-kart! 

BFF and guest blogger, MattyHari, shares her experiences...

Squatter’s rights

My friend Mik the ranger told me she once made signs for overseas tourists at a Top End park to show that plastic toilet seats were for sitting and it was not necessary, nay downright life-threatening, to stand on them, perched precariously over the bowl in a bird squat, take poor aim and let loose the hell hounds of river Sty(n)x. I assumed all bets were off, however, should a croc be visiting one’s cubicle.

But this got me thinking about some pretty challenging squat toilets I have used in my travels.

                                     a charming and very private roof top squat in north eastern Syria

Tripoli, Peloponnese, Greece circa 1982, taverna stop on way to Sparta Have never seen squat before. Completely mystified as to what I should do. Footholds covered in gooey mix of wee, poo and loo paper. Smell is worse than when dad does number twos. Pee desperation code red. I am wearing cute buttercup yellow overalls. Squat difficulty 8/10.  Hurry back to luckless parents sobbing with horror – no other timely option, I pee my pants.

Abu Dhabi 1992. Airport. All sitting toilets occupied. Squat is pristinely clean with copious evidence of regular hosing down i.e. water everywhere. Wearing jeans and old runners. Pee desperation code green – trying to get ahead of the game before next part of long haul flight to Istanbul. Estimated squat difficulty 2/10. Don’t count on coordination and balance challenge of fashionably tight 501s, treadless shoes, and pools of water. Slip backwards with almighty yelp and wedge naked bottom into squat. My Arab sisters vastly amused and all want to inspect ensuing hematoma on my butt.

Pasinler environs, Turkey 1996 ca. 2500m asl. Wandering around barren, windswept mountain crevasses looking for old copper mines, come to a village, ask old lady with goats if I can use toilet. Pee desperation code amber. Am ushered excitedly behind adobe house to what is basically a cliff edge with a hemp-rope panic grip spiked into the rock. Squat difficulty 10/10 given that dying supersedes all other concerns. Breeze is so great have no need for toilet paper even if they’d been any available.

Membij, Syria, 2005 Hard to believe this is the fabled Heliopolis of antiquity. Grey, dirty, squalid, streets awash with rotting vegetables and animal innards. Dash out of cramped servis begging directions to nearest toilet. Pee desperation code red. Local shamefacedly shows me Besser-block construction the size of generous torture chamber. On entering, Arab male runs out alarmed by my expletives and pee dance. He alerts others who form a human shield around the block so I can relieve myself in their full hearing. Conditions inside are dire. No light source, natural or artificial. Can barely see that there is a hole in middle of earthen floor, no footholds. Squat sewer must be a mile deep but the stench of shit and adult male urine is so overwhelming I can taste it in the back of my throat even today. Slimy wetness and foulness on the walls suggests people do not always have patience with the squat. Am terrified I will stumble, touch a wall or fall into the shithole and have to be hauled out, plastered in excrement, by my appreciative audience. Cover my nose with neck of jumper. Squat difficulty 7/10 - I am semi-standing so as not to accidentally touch anything. Of all the toilets in the world, this one still gives me nightmares, not least of which I may have been some sort of local toilet celebrity by end of it. Happy (relieved?) exclamations from audience when I emerge from purgatory. Someone actually claps.

Near Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia 2006 Am visiting one of the villages outside of the pristine, 5-star resort strips. Lovely people. No squat toilet per se but am politely shown to the chicken coop. Squat difficulty 4/10, with most of the difficulty points for no toilet paper or water to wash hands. Chickens delighted to see me.

Abu Qalqal, Syria 2010 Lovely clean, porcelain squat in my compound. Am experienced, careful, so squat difficulty is only 1/10. About to fill up bucket of water to flush and clean the toilet. Touch cold water tap and am thrown a metre in the air by electric shock. Er…what the f*ck just happened? Source of heinous electrocution: bare hot water service wires touching water pipes. Entire plumbing system is live.

Abu Qalqal squat toilet, Syria. The brown stuff is mud from my shoes, which I was about to clean before my electrocution

You can follow MattyHari’s adventures on twitter, @mattyhari

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