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Toilet Traumas II: The Squatter Strikes Back

The Joys of Delhi Belly in Udaipur

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UPDATE: We were nowhere near Mumbai during the terrorist attacks. Please join us in prayers for the victims and their families.

They say that if you travel to India, it’s going to happen to you. Clinically known as “Traveler’s Diarrhoea” (I do prefer the British spelling; that extra ‘o’ makes the word look so much prettier), everyone on the road calls it simply “Delhi Belly.” No matter how careful you are, inspecting the seal on each bottle of water, carefully assessing the hygiene of every dining establishment, avoiding food that has been sitting out, and washing your hands religiously, it’s just a fact of life. Come to India, and you are almost certain, as travel host Anthony Bourdain so eloquently puts it, to spend some quality time on the “Thunder Bucket.”

Our adventure -- and trust me, this is a story worth hearing -- began at the Pushkar Camel Fair, where we inhaled prodigious amounts of dust and camel fur, both of which we are allergic to. Combined with the toxic goo still stuck in our lungs from breathing the air (and I use the term loosely) in Delhi, we both were feeling the beginnings of some pretty unpleasant respiratory issues as we settled into the evening train ride to Udaipur.

And then came the fatal error in judgement: dinner on the train. It was such simple food; dhal (lentil curry), rice, and chapatis (unleavened whole wheat bread). It looked so innocent. It didn’t even have any meat. Well, something was hiding in there, alive, lying in wait...

As I have discussed in several previous posts, on this trip we are frequently staying with local people that we have met through an online hospitality organization called Couchsurfing. In Udaipur, we were supposed to be staying for three nights with an Indian man named Raj and his family. We arrived late (about 10:30pm) and they welcomed us warmly: Raj and his wife, his two beautiful little girls, and his mother. A really nice family, typical Indian middle class. They have a very pleasant flat in a classic building in Udaipur’s old city. We sat together in the small living room talking for a while, and they brought us some palak paneer (fresh cheese in spinach sauce) to taste -- we think they probably had a whole dinner waiting for us and were disappointed we had already eaten. But we were very tired, so we said we would like to go to bed.

“Alright, no problem,” said Raj. “You and I will sleep in the room across the courtyard, and the women will sleep in the other room here.”

OK, interesting. Not a sleeping arrangement we had anticipated or ever encountered before, but then, this is India and as I said they are a very traditional Indian family. So, putting on our best game faces, we headed off to separate sides of the house to sleep. Interesting and unusual, but certainly nothing we couldn’t handle.

And then, about an hour later, it happened: the Gut Gurgglies. You know what I’m talking about; that ominous feeling of the flood gates at both ends of your stomach being thrown open, emptying its entire contents into the express lanes to the nearest exits. The harbinger of imminent and extreme digestive unpleasantness. “This is Mission Control, T-minus-five and counting...”

I was going to be sick, and I knew it. In someone else’s house.

I got up and went out to scout the bathroom situation. It was just off the courtyard; thankfully not attached to either bedroom area -- not that Raj was likely to hear any unpleasant sound effects considering the depth of his slumber. I opened the door; yep, as expected, it was a squatter. Well, not ideal, but I would make do. Toilet paper? Of course not; this is India, where only foreigners wipe instead of wash. But no problem; I had a roll in my backpack, which was still in the living room. I went to the door to the other part of the house, where the women were asleep.

Padlocked shut.

Apparently they really take protecting their women seriously in India. I did not take personal offense at this, since my own wife was in there as well, though I did pause to consider the implications if there were a fire. But I can’t say I was very pleased with the development. Beginning to feel an urgent situation arising, I went back to the bathroom that would be my personal chamber of horrors for the rest of the night, resigned to the unfamiliar and unpleasant task of washing after each round of fireworks.

Diarrhoea with cramps on a squat toilet is not a very amusing experience. Vomiting into one is worse. The old plumbing leaked water all over the floor, so I had to kind of straddle the puddle, crouching with my knees against the edge of the toilet platform, and get my face quite unpleasantly close to the squatter to avoid missing it. In retrospect I am sure I looked really funny. Say what you want about the squat toilet being more ergonomic for defecation, the western toilet is way better for vomiting.

About 6am, I heard movement (and an unlocking padlock) from the other side of the flat, and I went to find Lynn. She had spent the night attempting not to cough in the faces of the wife and daughter with whom she had shared the bed. One look at my face as I croaked, “Hotel...” and she understood that things had not gone well for me either.

We apologized profusely to Raj and his family for needing to leave and be sick in private. They were all very concerned for us and sorry to see us go. And we were sad to leave -- they were lovely people, and we would have enjoyed getting to know them better. But it’s really hard to be a good guest when you are dreadfully ill. So we caught a lift to a cheap guesthouse and spent the next four days recovering. And there are certainly worse places than Udaipur to be stuck in a hotel room, looking at the view out of your window.

India. It has a way of getting into your head, and your heart.

As well as your guts.

Posted by Bwinky 22:27 Archived in India Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (1)

Toilet Traumas

In which Lynn relates her experiences with some very iffy biffies

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Anyone who has travelled extensively knows that it is going to happen eventually. Well, it happened to me right away in Asia. I ate something that didn't agree with my fragile western stomach, and paid for it for the next couple of days. This gave me the wonderful opportunity to become intimately acquainted with the toilets in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Japan... every twenty minutes.

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Indonesia and Malaysia are lands of squat toilets. The advantage of these toilets is that you get a great thigh workout at the same time (anyone that knows me knows that I love multi-tasking). It also is truly ergonomically correct in facilitating the evacuation of one's bowels. Unfortunately, these bathrooms only supply water and a scoop for it -- no toilet paper. If you are firmly in the wipe-over-wash category, make sure you always have toilet paper with you.

Imagine riding on an overnight bus that is filled with people sprawled everywhere trying to sleep while the bus is careening down the road, swerving in and out of oncoming traffic like a spy being chased by the KGB.

Then suddenly... you have to go.

Into the tiny, smelly, damp 2' x 2' cubicle at the back of the bus with a hole in the middle of the floor and two grid marks on either side for better traction -- if only the bus tires had this much traction -- you must venture. As the bus sways radically, accelerating and decelerating with no perceivable pattern, you try to balance over the hole while keeping any piece of clothing from touching the ground or sides. Remember to breathe through your mouth!

Then the bus lurches forward and you have to reach out to catch yourself from falling face-first into the wall. It is damp from something... don't think about it! Just grab one of your precious pieces of toilet paper and wipe it off as best you can. As you are attempting to pull your underpants back up, your elbow hits the flimsy door and it swings open... to hit a man that is trying to sleep outside the bathroom. Quickly! Pull the door shut and get yourself presentable before reopening the door and stepping over the man without making any eye contact as you find your way back to your seat. Try to forget about what is fermenting on your hand until you can find a sink to wash it in -- four hours later.

I will absolutely deny that this was me... I am simply relating a story another traveller told me. Yeah, that's it!

Mind you, in people's homes the toilets were very clean even when they were squatters.

Singapore provided both squat and sit toilets, and they were far more clean and sometimes they even had toilet paper. I was very thankful for this since I was getting a weak with dehydration, which made it harder balancing over the squat toilets...

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Now in Japan, the toilets are really high-tech -- when you walk in, the cover automatically opens for you. If it is below a certain temperature in the room, the seat is heated. And believe it or not, there is a little remote control on the side of the seat, with a button that makes a flushing noise (for those with gastric problems they don't want others in the bathroom hearing). And, they have three different buttons for washing your "backside" with a jet of warm water, a button for drying after you have washed, and a 'STOP' button. And of course, there is also toilet paper for the fearful American who doesn't want to try the wash & dry settings.

I mentioned how we don't have any high-tech toilets like that in America to a Japanese woman we met, and she asked if I had tried the buttons. I had to confess that I had not and she said, with a twinkle in her eye, "Oh, I highly recommend it." I didn't ask any further questions, but determined to push the 'WASH' button next time...

It was amazing how the jet of warm water found its exact "mark" each time.

I started to wonder whose job it is to figure out precisely where the "target" will be when sitting on the toilet. Can you imagine if that was your job? How do you explain that at Christmas parties? "Hi, I'm Tony. I am a salesman for vending machines. So, what do you do?"

There is also one button that I never tried. It was the only one that didn't have a picture symbol under the Japanese Kanji "letters." I was afraid I would come out of the stall with wet hair or something.

I will always wonder if this was the button that made the Japanese woman's eyes twinkle...

Posted by Bwinky 03:16 Archived in Japan Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (8)

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