Saturday 5 January 2013

Holidays in Tangkahan - Part 4: Bathroom Business

Understanding each other's culture is key

I think I found this on FB, and I have no idea who owns it! Please get in touch if it is yours, I really would love to keep it here :)
This bathroom business is only a problem because nobody talks about it. Only in recent years some TV shows became outrageously open about colon therapy and those sorts of things, but there are still a lot of taboos. I even wrote a blog about 'How to go to the bathroom' some years back, but to follow those tips you need a seating toilet. When you travel, you will be faced with a rather different set of issues. Travelling  to developing countries can be daunting, and information usually comes in horror stories from the ones who had learnt the hard way. So let's put some perspective to the subject.

Which one is mine?
So embarrassing to run into a guy with his pants down. This even happened to me in London, but for other reasons than language barriers. Even if you are not planning to learn the language: you may want to look up the words for 'toilet/bathroom', 'male' and 'female'.

Bathroom = Kamar mandi (Indonesian)

Indonesian for 'man'

Indonesian for 'woman'

Seating VS Squatting
I really didn't trust my eyes!

While the locals get quite visually educated, nobody ever told me how to use a squatting toilet. At times I am still confused which way round I have to stand. I guess all boils down to me being a really stiff Westerner and the right way round sometimes does not allow for enough space or has no wall to hold on to, but I am getting better. On my last trip I used the airport squatting toilet in Medan wearing a big back pack, a heavy belt bag - very inconvenient when letting your trousers down - while my computer bag was hanging from my neck. Sometimes I think this would make good material for a comedy movie.

However, in the meantime I prefer a clean squatting toilet to a dirty seating one. All it needs is a bit more preparation. In squatting toilets the floor usually is wet, so I roll up my trouser legs before descending to business - don't forget to roll them down again... - don't laugh, happened to me several times, it is hot, one is used to shorts, one has enough to do getting sticky trousers up on sticky skin... one forgets a few things...

Rule number 1: Develop a routine!

Door locks - Get over yourself!
Really - it's the only thing you can do! Ever so often they don't exist, if they exist they may be from the outside - beats me! Probably a re-used door the wrong way round - or locks are funny contraptions made out of household items. 

General rule seems to be: if the door is open, then it's free; if it somewhat ajar there might be somebody in. Usually the rooms are small so I can reach if somebody pushes against it, or I might need the door to hold on to anyway, if the room is big then all I can do is to sing or whistle, or to create some sort of commotion.

Rule number 2: Be noisy!

Paper VS Water
I know... if you have very modern toilets then you have 'paper & water'. I had a chat with a friend and although she lives in South East Asia since a while, she has no clue either on how the toilet routine is meant to happen.

So, we have established the first bits of the process: you find the right one, you go in, you decide on how to deal with the door and which way round to use the basin, you do what you need to do...

... and then there you are... what next?

All there is is in the best of cases is a bucket or basin with or without water, a ladle kind of pot thingy and a water tap which usually is already running/trickling - no paper, though!

This leads to the assumption that Indonesian people wash, something which comes close to the French bidet solution, just with the difference that there is no PAPER for crying out loud... Maybe things are easier when you are flexible in your legs and actually can operate things like ladles for such purpose rather then needing your hands for balance and grabbing hold. And maybe things are easier when wearing sarongs and light, calf length cotton trousers which look a bit like sleepers. I however never saw anybody look like having wet themselves just from pulling up trousers over a wet buttocks... I have no idea how it works... maybe there is somebody out there who can enlighten us.

I for my part am always prepared now; I never go without my trusted belt bag which I modified with two hooks so it actually goes into the loops of the trousers, otherwise the belt has a tendency to slip as soon as it is opened, and I can use it without wearing a belt. This little bag contains wet wipes and tissues. Initial worries of blocking the drain have left me. I am very resourceful in my paper use, as it is hard to get hold of,  and a big scoop of water will flush it away. Additionally this ugly little thing allows for plasters, deet, money, teatree oil, small torch, all the stuff appropriate for the respective day trip. The front pockets are always equipped the same way and I find stuff in my sleep, the big part gets tailored for the day. I hope it never breaks!

Rule number 3: be prepared!

How2... Deep Clean!
Oh well, I just don't! I do things to get refreshed, but as soon as I sit in the car to Tangkahan I throw my Western standards in the bin. Jess, the director of RAW, always looks like a lady, well groomed, fresh and radiant even in the middle of the jungle. Like the majority of people however, I have given up and it works fine for me. I so far only stayed for two weeks at a time and that is just OK for survival in clothes which are always a bit damp and without a shower. See, this is not a complaint, not even a challenge, for me this reflects what this kind of trip is all about.

Don't get me wrong: I love going to a long spa weekend as well. Here however, I am going back to my roots. When I was a child we had one bath every week, and for the rest of it it was a wash cloth and cold water. I got lucky when my grandma prepared a kettle of warm water in the evening before she scrubbed me down. And my skin was less itchy and allergic back then. Our culture of having a shower every day might make us appear very cultured and clean, but actually it is harmful: for the environment and ourselves.

At my lodge I have a tap, a big bucket and a sitting down toilet. A little shelf allows for storing some soap, toothbrush and paste, and I have a nail to hang a towel. This is perfectly fine. I only need half of the big bucket for washing my hair and scrubbing myself down - I am a wash cloth girl, I just can't get myself to pour cold water over my back - and this water I then use to flush the toilet. I feel fresh and I actually am clean, just that it feels differently.

The only concessions to the Western lifestyle I do is using my own shampoo - not really good as it is not bio degradable, but my hair became really bad last time when I used the bio stuff - and I use stay in conditioner spray, which I only use if needed, rather than the wash out stuff. I let my hair dry as it is, no power for blow dry anyway; body lotion I skip, the humidity puffs up my skin nicely, and a few minutes after washing I will be sweaty again, which together with cream would make things extra sticky.

In summer when the river is nice and clean we used to bath in there. This is fun, but one has to keep clothes on while washing and I find that a hassle. I rather do everything soapy in the privacy of my little bathroom and use the river only for refreshment. 

Rule number 4: Less is more!

What if there is Nothing?
Using a bush in the cultivated Western world already is a bit of an ordeal, in the jungle it is even more challenging. This is the only occasion which induces penis envy in me. Don't despair though, there is a thing called 'Shewee' and you get it in outdoor shops. I haven't used it yet, but I diligently put it into my suitcase just in case. The idea is to use it in conjunction with a bottle, preferably a wide neck one, so other stuff can go there as well, and nature is safe from human stink and wildlife will be undisturbed. I guess this is more for hard core trackers, on our tracks we did use bushes. 

It is more a matter of timing rather than availability of shrubberies. After lunch for example everybody all of a sudden is strolling off, which somewhat compromises privacy. I tend to try and get ahead of the game, especially if the travel group is only newly formed. It is amazing how toilet issues tie a group together over time. Things one is quite squeamish about initially get freely shared for the benefit of the group a bit later on. 

One tip I have right now is: Use Deet (insect repellent) all over before you put on your clothes, be careful not to get it on soft tissue. It is rather nerve wrecking to see leeches reaching up while you are not in a position to run. Whatever you leave, cover up and mark with a little stick or so, then others will be able to avoid the spot.

Rule number 5: Take things with a grain of salt!

Coming up: Befriending creepie crawlies

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