Thursday, March 31, 2011

Why squat toilets will always make me think of Canada

Disclaimer: this post was written specifically for this week's State Department Blog Roundup. I do not intend to make it a habit to publish posts about toilets or my ability to use them properly.

Also, Donna, I hope you saw my comment about checking out Real Post Reports for more info on life in Kabul.

Hi, my name is Liz. I am 30 years old. And I just learned how to use a squat toilet.

Unfamiliar with the term “squat toilet” or what one looks like? It's called by a variety of names, all of which are probably no-longer PC. So here’s a picture, just so you know what I’m talking about.

Photo by Todd Mecklem. Used under Creative Commons license.

I was first faced with the question of how to use a squat toilet while visiting Meteora in Greece in 2005. In the 6 years since, I’ve been to quite a few countries where squat toilets are not uncommon: Afghanistan, of course, and also Israel, Egypt, India, Turkey and Indonesia. And I’ve been doing it wrong THIS ENTIRE TIME.

Insert red face here.

Yes, it turns out I’ve been doing it BACKWARDS this entire time….which I guess is why I was never able to use a squat toilet successfully. Not to go into gory details, but let’s just say I struggled with splashback. I knew my problems couldn’t be just because I didn’t have something to sit on; I have no trouble answering the call of nature when we’re camping in the woods. So I just assumed that something about my anatomy made it so that I couldn’t use a squat toilet, and made every effort to avoid using one. And when I was forced to use one…I would remove all of my bottoms. I know, I KNOW. It’s ridiculous.

So how did I discover that I was doing it wrong? No, I did not Google “how to use a squat toilet”…..and I shudder to think of the types of images such a search would bring up! No, I was, in fact, taught to use a squat toilet by a Canadian Army Major in the women’s bathroom in the Afghanistan Ministry of Agriculture.

Yes, in the middle of a ministry building, with me in my head scarf, my kind and very un-self-conscious military colleague (yes I just invented a double hyphenated word. Deal with it) listened to my sad tale of how I was unable to use a squat toilet, dropped trou, and gave me a live demonstration. In truth, the demonstration was a hundred times more informative than the meeting we had just finished.

I have not yet had the chance to test my new knowledge, nor am I going to actively seek out the opportunity to do so. But I know that mine and Nick’s global wanderings are sure lead to another encounter with a squat toilet. And every time I use one successfully – with no splashback – I will offer up my gratitude to the Canadian military.

Oh, and in case you’ve never had the pleasure of using a squat toilet and are wondering how to do it, my only piece of advice is to face toward the hole and aim carefully.


  1. So that comment was from Amy not Frank and Amy as I do not think Frank could do this wrong!

  2. The Weekly State Department Blog Round-up is posted, and you're on it!

    If I've made any errors, or you prefer not to be included, just let me know. Thank you!

  3. Problem I had with the squatties, was the open stall, no door, and, in some places, the locals would just be hanging out in the room, socializing. Bad enough trying to use one of these toilets, with an infant in a sling at that, but to do so as the only foreigner with an audience of 'pros' was just too much!

  4. Hysterical! I am so glad you provided the last sentence, because I would have made the very same mistake!

    I did see your comment about the Real Post Reports. My husband and I are just reading it now. (My federal computer wouldn't allow me to open it up at work!) It is VERY informative.

    We will, however, continue to follow your blog. Not only do you provide so much info for the rest of us, but you are so down-to-earth and have a wonderful sense of humor!