Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Turkish Toilet Story

Ok, ok, ok... every time I've spoken to someone since my return to the States, that person has wanted to hear the Turkish Toilet Story that I have hyped and promised to tell at some future point. I've actually told the story to a couple of people and gotten a less than enthusiastic response, so it may be that my story is not actually as funny as it was to me when it was happening. Be that as it may, I suppose I will try to tell it on my blog and hope that the written version is more amusing than the spoken version.

First, I suppose I should explain what a Turkish Toilet it. It is, quite simply, a hole in the ground. There are usually two places to put your feet, but the principle is simple: you squat. Now, before you all get freaked out about this, there are compelling arguments that the Turkish toilet, or squat toilet, is superior to its more Western cousin. A squatting position is supposedly better for evacuating bowels, and, quite frankly, squatting over a hole is much more sanitary than placing a bare ass on a surface that some other bare ass has recently vacated.

I first encountered the dreaded Turkish toilet several years ago, when I was in France. I was visiting the Bastille in Grenoble (not The Bastille--the Bastille in Grenoble). I needed to use the facilities, but after locating them, I decided that I could probably hold it. It wasn't so much the Turkish toilet part of things that bothered me; it was the complete lack of doors on the stalls--or even a door to the bathroom. There was also the lack of lights and the smell and the general level of filth (the toilets were actually the cleanest part of the bathroom). With all that, the toilet was the least of my worries.

Anyway, time has passed and I have become comfortable with the Turkish toilet, even preferring it to Western toilets in public restrooms. In short, the Turkish toilet had become old hat--a non-issue--and I didn't really think that there was anything about it that could phase me.

Now, before we continue our little story, I think I ought to mention my love for street food. I love street food. I really feel that eating street food is a fantastic way to get a feel for a new city (it is also usually dirt cheap). Unfortunately, as I get older, my body becomes less and less pleased with the amount of street food I try to feed it, and it occasionally rebels. By occasionally, I mean pretty much every other time I eat street food. And by rebel, I mean... well, you know. My stomach has turned into quite the prima donna.

So, my last day in Greece, I grabbed a Gyros from a dodgy kebab shop (but really, is there any other kind?). It wasn't particularly good, but I forced myself to eat it all because I didn't really know when I'd get a chance to eat again. I spent the day trudging through Thessaloniki in the rain (as a side note, I have absolutely no pictures of Thessaloniki--not because I forgot my camera, but because I forgot to put my recently recharged battery in my camera. Yes, I was so exhausted that I packed both my recharger and my one lithium battery in the bottom of my backpack).

That evening, I wound up sharing a room with a very nice Greek lady. It was a tiny room and I had the top bunk. We were both tired, so we agreed to turn out the lights early. As I was laying in bed, however, I felt--and then heard--that ominous stomach rumbling that no traveler ever wants to hear. "Please, please, please let me make it through the night without having to get up," I thought. Unfortunately, about ten minutes later, I knew the worst was about to come. I crawled out of bed, opened the door, which caused the glaring light from the hallway to fall right on the nice Greek woman's face and wake her up (sorry, sorry), and trudged down the hallway, clutching my stomach.

At the end of the hallway, I turned right and opened the door leading to the bathroom. And there it was. The Turkish toilet.

Did I mention that I was on a train currently speeding to Istanbul?

Now might be a good time to talk about European train bathrooms. They are usually tiny rooms with wet floors (I don't even want to know), no toilet paper (I have learned to travel with my own), incredibly foul smells (you have no idea), and a sign in several languages warning you not to use the toilet while the train is stopped (and why do you think this is? Well, where do you think the waste actually goes?). I have met fellow travelers who make a point of starving and dehydrating themselves just so they don't have to use these bathrooms.

So, here I was, standing in the doorway of a (I'm going to have to go with lurching over swaying) train, staring through the hole in the floor of the train at the train tracks blurring past. Then, with one last churn of my stomach, I huddled over that hole, trying to grab on to the sink, the (empty) toilet paper holder, the windowsill--anything to hold myself steady--feeling puffs of air on my bare ass as the train sped towards Turkey.

When I was done... well, I knew I wasn't completely done, so I decided to hang in the hallway for a while before the next round. After about an hour (and a couple more trips back to the hole), I decided that it was safe to return to my room. And of course all the doors to all the compartments in the wagon looked completely the same, so I had to try a few before I figured out which one was mine. I, once again, woke up my nice, Greek roommate when I opened the door (sorry, sorry), and, completely exhausted, I crawled up into my bunk and was eventually lulled to sleep by the gentle lurching of the train.

Of course, this is not the end of my story. The next morning, I woke up and had to pee. I again walked down the hallway to the bathroom, but it was occupied. Well, no problem, there was another bathroom at the other end of the wagon. I walked to that one, opened the door, and there it was, shining like a shit-stained beacon of civilization: a Western toilet.


At 4:43 PM, Anonymous Shari said...

Well, I thought it was pretty funny. :-)


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