One of the very first things that you learn about the third world when you finally get there, is that most of the toilets don’t flush. And when I say that the toilets don’t flush I mean there is no flushing option available. Most toilets are outhouses. For all you first worldanians out there, out houses are things that were around when the cowboys lived on the range and the deer and the antelope played.
I have had the opportunity to use quite a few outhouses, some better than others but all have the same basic structure: Small human sized box, a seat made of wood (splinters included!) and a hole. The hole is often deep enough to say hello to China, or if you’re in China you can say hello to America. That’s how that works right?
One thing that always gets me is the look of horror on the face of people who have never encountered an outhouse. The reaction usually includes a stifled response of “I’ll hold it”. Oh, one other thing when traveling overseas a person can usually expect to encounter is a different kind of “Regularness”, one that even the most powerful fiber can’t produce. So very soon those who originally said “I’ll hold it” are making a mad dash towards the most inviting little house around, the outhouse.
When you enter the outhouse it is often dark, and if you’re lucky there will be ventilation holes at the top which not only allow a small breath of fresh air to flow, but also the sounds of the people on the other side of the thin wood. I like to close my eyes and go real fast. The purpose of the toilet is not the same purpose that a luxury spa has, no need to hang around in there. If you are fast then you can get back to the real experience.
One thing that I always tell people when they start to absolutely refuse to go is, “This is their bathroom, they have to potty train their children here and you are too good for it?”. I know it may be a little harsh but it would be much ruder to stand there with a look of disgust on your face while a family who is in need, humbly allows you into their lives and homes.
Whenever I am on a humanitarian trip I always try to find and recognize the most mundane things that are so completely different from the things that I encounter back home. I like to remember those things and keep my perspective in check.