Saturday, May 28, 2011

cross cultural marriage - how to use the restroom in Kenya

This topic is really more cross cultural and less about marriage. My post was inspired by Tupp's post about powdering your nose in the Netherlands. Using the facilities in another country involves so much more than just knowing the word in the local language for "restroom" or "toilet." You may be with people who speak English (or it could be an English speaking country) but there are so many more things to be considered than what it's called. Do you flush for everything or "let it mellow"? Do you put toilet paper in the trash or toilet? In public, do you have to pay to use the toilet or for paper? Should you just always bring your own? (The answer to that one is yes - absolutely!) How do you excuse yourself? Where do you wash your hands afterwards? (Also, always carry antibacterial gel!) Then there's the issue of what kind of toilets to expect.

In Swahili "choo iko wapi?" (the choo has a long o; it's not like a choo-choo train) means "where is the toilet?" and is generally an acceptable way to ask your hosts where you may go. However, if you're at my mother-in-law's house, there is no choo. The literal translation of what you should say to ask where to go is "I need to help myself [small or big]." I don't remember the Swahili for that because I just tell Rodgers in English. Being married into the culture can be an advantage and a handicap. My brother-in-law built a small shelter behind his house where you may go #1. It's just 4 short walls made of sticks, with a doorway (no door or roof). There is no hole in the ground. Men have the advantage here because they can just turn towards a corner and go. Women have to figure out how to squat without getting pee mud on their clothes. If you need to go #2, my suggestion is to hold it until you get back to the city. That's what I do. You can't go #2 in that little hut. I am not brave enough to find out where you go #2 out in the country. You'll want to avoid touching your shoes with your hands either way.

So this leads me to places that actually have a choo. It may be at someone's house, a hotel room, or a public restroom. Many may be BYOTP (bring your own toilet paper), like out in the country is. I can think of 3 types. We'll work from the ground up.

First is what I would call a latrine. It's probably similar in structure to the pee hut at my in-laws'. It may or may not have a door. It may or may not have a ceiling. What it doesn't have is a toilet. It is a hole in the ground. There will be a type of platform on each side of the hole. This is where your feet go as you stand or squat over the hole. There are probably lots of bugs in the hole. And it smells. My advice: do your business and get out.

Next is a squatting toilet. It's different from a latrine in that it's an actual porcelain toilet that can be flushed. (Google squatty potty.) It's just in the floor. I found squatting toilets counter-intuitive. The first few times I used them, I had a lot of trouble with...aiming... I didn't dare try anything but #1. Then I realized I was using them backwards. You don't stand over the hole part of the toilet, you face the hole. Usually this means your back is to the door(way). Used correctly, they really aren't so bad. Going #2 in them isn't bad either. The position is actually quite conducive to moving things along, if you know what I mean. Many times, the flush doesn't work. But, there is almost always either a bucket of water or a spigot nearby, and either of those will have a smaller bucket or cup. This cup is to be filled with water, which you use to flush the toilet when you're done.

Some homes and public facilities (though in many of the public facilities, squatting seems more sanitary) have sitting toilets. The Kenyans call them English toilets. They are quite the luxury. We will have English toilets in our home. I can pee anywhere, but when I get home, I want the comfort of a sitting toilet. Rodgers agrees. And, we'll always have toilet paper readily available, so don't worry about BYOTP at our house.

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