Monday, February 4, 2008

On Not Knowing How to Go Even After You Get There

One of the truly awkward experiences of international travel is going into a place you were told was a toilet and then not knowing where to "go" and what to do when you find it.

Toilets reflect traditions, local needs, and even religious practices.

In many tropical countries, pedestal toilets are difficult to keep odorless and clean. A squat toilet may look like slats over a pit, but many squat toilets are made of porcelain, have a water seal, and offer a water tank to flush away excreta. Sometimes, however, you pour water from a bucket.

It's not always obvious which wall of the toilet stall you face when you use a squat toilet. Most squats are keyhole-shaped and have some raised places to put your feet. When squatting to defecate, face the slim end of the keyhole shape.

Defecation at squat toilets requires squatting to avoid splashing on the legs and clothes. Regular users of Western pedestal-style toilets need to pull down pants and underwear lower than usual to avoid splashing—but be careful not to spill the contents of your pockets into the toilet in the process!

Users of squat toilets typically use water rather than toilet paper to clean themselves. This means that before you use the facility you should make sure there is water in the cistern both flush the toilet and clean yourself. Wetting the toilet before you use it makes flushing easier.

Don't be stingy with water. Not using enough water can clog the toilet as surely as using toilet paper when the pipes are not designed for it. Be sure to stand back when you flush—the flow may wet more than just the toilet.

Flush toilets may be difficult to maintain in cold climates, so you may encounter "long drop" composting toilets. It's important to leave the seat down when you finish with the toilet, to prevent inflow of cold air in winter (possibly freezing the next user to the toilet seat) or to prevent insects from flying up the toilet drop in the summer.

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