“Where is the bathroom?”
Donde está el bano? – Spanish
Haandey ana mindee? – Susu
où est la salle de bain? – French
Let’s talk bathrooms for a moment, shall we? My boyfriend was kind in warning me prior to our arrival in Africa that most people don’t use toilet paper. I had some terrifying visions in my head of what this would mean, but a girlfriend who has lived and traveled extensively in West Africa put me at ease.
These outdoor latrines are the most common form of toilet I’ve come across. The two tiles are where you put your feet, and you squat over the hole in the ground. Once I got over the *ick factor, I came to appreciate this to the American toilet I’ve become used to. First, it’s important to note that if you encounter wetness on the ground, it is water not pee. Second, I find these latrines much less smelly than the port-a-potties we’ve all encountered in the States. Ayurvedically, the squatting position lends itself much more to the release of Apana, or the downward moving energy of the body than American toilets. So much, in fact, that I’m now disappointed when I do encounter a porcelain toilet. These toilets, like many in Central America, are never hooked up to water. In fact, despite many bathrooms having sinks, I have not seen any running water on my trip.
The Dread Public Bathroom
I learned to fear public bathrooms after my Central American travels. One memory in particular stands out of a public restroom in a mall in San Salvador. Despite the polished appearance of the stores, the bathroom was a trench in a large room where everyone did their business, sans privacy. Luckily, most bathrooms weren’t like that horror, and once I learned to carry my own toilet paper and soap, I never had a problem.
In Africa, public bathrooms are rare. On a recent road trip, any time I needed to do use the restroom, we stopped to ask to use people’s latrines in their homes. Lucky for me that nobody said no! All were happy to provide the tea pot of water —kitili — and point the way – sometimes to a latrine that is a twin of the one pictures above, and sometimes around a small spiral into a straw enclosure with gravel on the floor –used only for urinating. I think all were tickled to have a foti or white person, visiting.