This story has aged enough that it’s funny to me.
If you are a reader from the Western world, when you picture a toilet, it is different than what is the toilet of many in the Eastern hemisphere. In Ethiopia, what is most commonly used, and has been affectionately nicknamed, the “squatty potty”. This can be in a variety of styles, but it’s basic structure is a hole in the ground with foot grips on the side and the user squats down over the hole. When accustomed to a Western toilet, it can be hard to get used to but I was recently reminded of the reciprocality of this. A family was visiting and when the father took his four-year old into our bathroom. “Where’s the toilet?” she asked him. When he explained that our porcelain toilet was how we went to the bathroom, she was surprised and a little disgusted and insisted on going outside to a squatty potty style bathroom near our house. On a Western style toilet, everyone’s bums occupy the same piece of plastic.
I have also seen a sign in a Western bathroom to prohibit a person from standing on a toilet seat, squatted down.
Here is a picture of a squatty potty at a restaurant we sometimes eat at between us and Addis Ababa. We usually wait and go in a grove of trees about an hour further down the road. This is an example of one we especially don’t like.
While this is the basic structure, I feel bad this is all you picture, especially because the bathroom our story takes place in was all covered in white ceramic tile and had white porcelain hole and foot grips.
Okay, that’s better, here’s a picture I found online that is more similar to where the story takes place, without the plumbing for running water and flushing.
Little A has some serious problems with the squatting down as it can be hard to aim and having her clothes or shoes get wet, she’s had enough of the whole squatting and has adapted a “Yes-I-will-hold-my-pee-for-9-hours, thank you-very-much” attitude. She often does it but this day, The girls and I were waiting for Jon and a few friends at a restaurant that supposedly had internet (nope, no internet). While we waited, I bought the girls a soda and myself a macchiato. After about an hour, we had tried to go to the bathroom but the Littles decided to hold it until we got home. All was fine with this plan until Jon told me we were invited to a gathering at a house that added probably two hours until we would arrive at home. In my motherly wisdom, I made the decision that the girls had to go at this restaurant as it was going to be a better set up than the house we were going to.
The bathroom was very wet. It had been splashed out with a bucket of water shortly before we entered. Upon entrance, Little J went without incident. Then, I tucked my skirt into my shirt and Little J’s into her shirt. Little J held the toilet paper and my purse on one side. Because of Little A’s fear that she was going to get herself and us wet, I took off her clothes, besides her little flip-flops because…well, for obvious reasons. I squatted down facing Little A, wrapping my arms around her back as the foot grips were wide and on which it was hard for her to plant her feet.
Do you sort of have the visual? For minutes that felt like forever, Little A shifted and wiggled, trying to get into the perfect position over the hole.
And then…yep…her little foot slipped on the wet porcelain…right. into. the. hole.
As I strained to lift her out from my squatted position, I slipped into a sitting position, which actually provided better leverage for me to put my feet against a wall and yank Little A for all I was worth. Out came her leg and foot and from some special store house of grace, as I stood up, the first words out of my mouth were calm and reassuring, “A, it’s okay, I am going to get you cleaned up, no problem”. She looked up into my face, surprisingly calm but then down at her leg and foot and she realized what had happened and started to weep. Not like a little cry or an angry wail, it was a heart broken weeping. And there we were, the three of us. Little J’s eyes were wide as I praised God there was a bucket of clean water in the corner (also the slippery bathroom culprit) and we started scrubbing.
About twenty minutes after we entered the bathroom, we exited, fully clothed again and joined Jon and friends in the restaurant, “Hey, are you guys okay, you took forever! Here, your shiro came.” All three of us smiled, sat down and I noticed I was shaking and hoping no one would be able to tell how wet I was. We kind of stared at the shiro (which was a pile of reddish brown crushed chickpea stew) and decided we weren’t really that hungry.
And sometimes, when my day isn’t going well one way I can cheer up is by shrugging and thinking, “Well, no one has their foot in a squatty potty”.