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How To Pee and Other Tales

By Jane McLellan

Last updated: 5th September 2011

Yes, you were potty trained when you were a kid, and no, you don’t usually require instruction when entering a toilet, but when traveling you’d be surprised how the regular routine of going to the ‘smallest room’ can suddenly present you with a whole new set of challenges…

If you plan to travel to Africa, Asia and some parts of Latin America, you are likely to encounter a squat toilet. This is essentially a hole in the ground and, as the name suggests, you use it by squatting rather than sitting. If you haven’t encountered one before, it can be a tricky process to start with as it requires a bit of effort, a good balancing technique and a good straight aim to keep your clothes and shoes away from the line of fire.

There are some positive aspects to using a squat toilet. Squat toilets, though they may sound horrible, can be considerably more hygienic than sharing a seat in a public toilet, and I often found I was grateful I didn’t have to sit down! They also have the added benefit of toning up thigh muscles!

Squat toilets are usually made of a porcelain plate that surrounds a bowl or have a slightly raised pedestal a few inches from the ground, normally with a ribbed footrest either side of the toilet for you to rest your feet on. Squat toilets have their own cubicle, just like public toilets in the UK, so it doesn’t matter if you look silly trying to get to grips with this novel way of answering nature’s call.

Of course having your own cubicle is no certainty. I did have one unusual toilet experience in Malaysia. I had been travelling on a coach for many hours before we eventually stopped at a rural service station. I was absolutely bursting for the loo and quickly ran to the toilet only to find myself staring at a row of squat holes. Much to my horror, there were no cubicles, no walls and no doors. There was just a series of holes with a constant stream of water flowing in between them. I looked like a rabbit in headlights and I’m sure I swore a few times under my breath. Luckily I was on my own so I positioned myself, undid my trouser button and just as I was about to squat I saw a whole Malay family walking into the room. They must have thought I looked ridiculous because they just stopped and stood in a line and stared at me. I am not sure if I was doing it wrong or they just thought I was interesting. After what felt like ages, I suddenly got stage fright, pulled up my trousers and swiftly walked out of the door. I then held up the bus while I walked down the road until I found a suitable tree to pee behind. Thankfully, that was the one and only time I was faced with this kind of toilet drama.

Most squat toilets are fine to use and it does get easier with experience. I have some tried and tested tricks that I thought I’d share – lucky you!

The golden rule is to carry your own supply of tissues or toilet roll at all times. The chances are you won’t find toilet paper available in these kinds of toilets. You should have your tissue ready before you squat otherwise you could find yourself in a difficult position, struggling to get into your pockets and running the risk of ruining your delicate balancing act. You should not put any tissue down a squat toilet as it can block the plumbing system. Use the bin provided instead.

Place your feet on the footrests. Keep your feet flat on the ground, as this will improve your balance and stability.  If you are wearing a skirt secure the end of it into the waistband, but if trousers are more your forte, pull them down, but make sure they stay above your feet. The floor is usually wet where people have either used water to clean themselves or missed the target. You could always remove your clothes to be on the safe side or until you have got the hang of it! Don’t lose the contents of your pockets, as it won’t be fun retrieving them!

It doesn’t really matter which direction you face when squatting as long as you fire in the right place, but most people tend to squat facing the door.  Doing a number two is pretty straightforward. However, if you are squatting to wee, then you need make sure that the flow that is fast enough to prevent dribble but not so hard as to cause a bit of splash-back. You will learn to find a nice middle ground with practice.

Now comes the controversial part. To rinse or to wipe… If you have tissues, then I would recommend using them. If you don’t have any tissues then you have three options. Firstly you could drip dry. Not ideal. The second option is to use the sprayer. This is normally a nozzle attached to a hose, which you point and fire by pushing down a lever. The final option is to clean with some water. In traditional squat toilets there is normally a bucket of clean water situated by the toilet. You can scoop this water out with your right hand and cleanse with your left. Remember to rinse your left hand. This is why in some countries people don’t eat or shake hands with their left hand. Personally, I have never used this method; I prefer good old-fashioned toilet paper!

Some squat toilets have a conventional western flush, so simply flush as you do at home. Otherwise, use the clean water next to you and pour some down the toilet. One of my tips for an effective flushing technique is to use more water, not less. The faster and stronger the flow (drop the water from a height), the more easily the waste goes down. The last jug of water should be poured along the side of the toilet bowl so it cleans the whole bowl and gets rid of the final remnants.

Wash your hands. If there isn’t any soap available, use some antibacterial gel.

Finally, my last toilet trick is to always have a torch handy, ideally a head torch. Some toilets don’t have a light. When I was in Fiji, the electricity on the island went off at 11pm so I had to do everything in the dark. When it came to brushing our teeth, all the travellers would help each other out by taking it in turns to shine the torch. It was a fun experience, however going to the toilet was a little more difficult unless you didn’t mind an audience. Personally, I like to do these things in private but I wasn’t prepared to pee in the dark in case I had any nasty company like snakes, spiders etc, so I would simply hold a torch between my teeth and do my best. Looking back, a head torch would have been a much more practical accessory and is now always on my kit list.

So, lesson over!  Now you are successfully able to strike out on your own and brave all the toilets around the world!

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