By Jenna Lynne Roberts
Backpacking in India for an extended time teaches you many unusual talents. In 6 months there, I learned how to ride a camel, meditate, communicate through a waggle of my head, sleep on a very bumpy bus, and eat using only my right hand.
Why the right hand you ask? Ah, because I used my left for something less than delectable. I explored what one could call a ‘back alley’ cultural experience.
Granted, the idea of wiping with my hand initially grossed me out. I stuck to tradition for a spell and purchased rough rolls from the wood shack mini-marts found in tourist towns. As I slipped further from the beaten path, though, it became harder to find the pre-ordained paper products. I found myself mashing and twisting journal papers to soften the crumpled swipe. Even worse were the times that I forgot to bring any potential poo relief product into the loo.
Once you are in that moment of uncertainty, with your bare ass drip-drying over the hole in the ground, options you never considered materialize before you. While hovering, you might begin to ponder how normal this is in much of the world. 70 to 75% of humans do not use the precious bleached tree pulp. It’s really more civilized. As one adamant Quebecois traveler imparted to me, “Can you imagine how much waste and filth there would be here if all 1 billion Indians used toilet paper?”
Indeed, but maybe that doesn’t need to stop in India. The average person’s booty wiping choice takes out 384 trees in their lifetime. Becoming TP-free with proper hand washing is a fine testament to solidarity in going green. Americans use approximately 8 million tons of it each year. In using paper, you both kill a tree and produce more trash to clog the arteries of whatever sewer stream is in your vicinity.
In most of Asia, people protect their plumbing by not flushing TP in the toilets at all. Having lived in Taiwan for two years, I had already grown accustomed to throwing it in the nearby receptacle. In India, however, the stalls often don’t even have a bin. So you have to walk outside the bathroom and fling your poo paper into the pile of random trash on the roadside. That’s also insulting there, since Indian culture is so abhorred by other people’s poop that they put the plumbers in the lowest caste.
As you squat philosophize on these various matters, your legs will likely begin to ache. You conclude that you’re above your own anxieties. You’re ready.
Here is how to manage the system provided in most toilets in the subcontinent:
- All within arms reach, there is typically a waterspout, a bucket, and a scoop. With your right hand, turn the spout to fill up the bucket.
- Again with your right hand, you pick up the scoop and pull out some water to rinse off the left hand. Do not let this rinse water go back into the bucket. That defeats the sanitary system. In a squat toilet, you can easily let the water fall into the bowl.
- Hold two to three fingers together into a flat plane. If you are female, reach through and first wipe your pee zone sideways. Start with the length-end of the pointer finger and swipe left. Use the scoop to rinse into the toilet. Repeat.
- Reach around your back and drag your fingers sideways along zone two.
- It’s especially important for girls to not pull forward because you need to keep the love zone totally clean of the poo zone.
- Rinse off your fingers and repeat. Usually 3 times does the job fine.
- Holding the pail handle with your right hand, pour one full bucket of water into the toilet.
- Wash your hands with soap after exiting the stall.
Many tourists don’t understand how much water you need to dump flush and they splash a measly scoop or two to simply rinse away their defected donations. This does not come close to moving out the stink and it makes the toilets so much nastier than they need to be. So give it a full bucket flush.
The way your butt feels afterward is a major selling point of obtaining this skill set. It is more refreshing and feels clean. As one Indian man I met offered, “If you got poop on your face, would be satisfied by just wiping it off with some paper? Probably not, so why treat any part of you this way?”
Despite this wisdom, I returned home and back to the mentality of rubbing bleached soft tissues upon my lily-white rump. On occasion, I still find this knowledge handy though. When camp supplies run out in the wilderness and I have a full water bottle to spare, I have a technique literally at hand. Also, in a case of the runs, this method leaves my booty without the acid burn that toilet paper only seems to agitate. To make the transition with a little more luxury, you can invest now in a bidet to get your training wheels on.
Regardless of the way you choose to begin your path toward TP freedom, it’s a worthwhile study. At least you can check off one less culture shock matter to talk yourself through while hovering awkwardly over a squat toilet on an adventure abroad.