Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bathrooms in Nepal

This whole blogging thing is still pretty new to me, and I guess I don't really know what kind of format, if any, “Glenn's Adventures” will ultimately follow. I know there will be plenty of events in my upcoming travels that will warrant an entire entry, but there will also be long periods of time where I'll be away from electricity, or when I simply won't want to or have the time to do much writing. So for today's entry, I'll try doing this in short story style. Here are some of the amazing things that have happened to Katie and I since everything went to hell on day one of our Nepal adventure.

Story One: Bathrooms in Nepal

Let's start with what everyone reading this must certainly be most interested in: peeing and pooping! In Korea, western-style toilets were the norm, but you'd occasionally find yourself having to use a squatter. A squatter that flushes. In Nepal, squatters are the norm, and western-style toilets are the rarity. And I haven't yet seen a squatter that flushes – at least not in the traditional sense. Most bathrooms have a big bucket and a tap (that occasionally works), so once you've done your duty (by 'done your duty' I mean 'taken a shit'), you fill the bucket with water and dump it into the squatter, thus mysteriously flushing away whatever you might have left behind, excluding, of course, the terrible smells that are a permanent fixture of Nepalese bathrooms.

There are no public bathrooms in Nepal, which is problematic on several levels. Since I got here, my digestive tract has been angry at me, perhaps because of the amount of street food I've been eating, or perhaps because all the damage done to my camera and computer stuff on day one wasn't quite enough to satisfy an inexplicably vengeful higher power. Either way, whenever you need to use a bathroom, there isn't one around. But there is ALWAYS a tea and snacks shop / restaurant. It doesn't matter if you are downtown, or on a high mountain trail. There's always a tea shop. So you can simply go in, order some tea, and use the bathroom. Problem solved – except for the oxymoronic concept of stopping at a place to pee, only to order another few drinks which simply perpetuates the problem.

Now for some specifically memorable squatter experiences: On Katie and my first full day in Nepal, we went to Swayambhu (Monkey Temple; see Story Two below), and when we came down at dusk, we wandered into a hole-in-the-wall for tea and snacks. The phrase hole-in-the-wall takes on a whole new meaning for spoiled Westerners like myself over here – many places have dirt floors, 5-foot high ceilings, and no electricity. This was one such place. Both Katie and I needed to use the bathroom, and upon explaining this, the proprietress told her 8-10 year old son to show us each, one-at-a-time, to the bathroom. To get there, you had to follow a boy through a single-candle lit kitchen, then through a pitch-black hallway (with 5-foot ceilings, of course), seeing only with the help of the boy's keychain-sized LED flashlight that emitted about as much light as a black hole. And it smelled like death. Poop-death.

The other specifically memorable squatter came at another hole-in-the-wall near Durbar Square, one of the touristy areas of Kathmandu. Getting to this squatter involved going upstairs, and through a chicken-wire “gate” that said something about a construction zone, under a collapsed brick / concrete / rebar pillar, and onto what can only be described as a bannister-free balcony. It looked like part of the floor had collapsed some time earlier (Days? Months? Years? No idea.). And there, on the middle of this 'balcony,' was the squatter. The 'balcony' was still hidden from the outside world by walls on all four sides, so you couldn't look out on the city or have the city look in on you, but after dark, it would have been terrifyingly easy to try to squat down, and instead fall over the edge of the balcony and impale yourself on one or more of the pieces of rebar sticking out in all directions from the floor below. Fun.

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