From the Bottom Up
I was 21 in the Egyptian Sinai, 1988 when I realized the Bedouin I was travelling with held me in contempt for my lack of personal hygiene. I was unceremoniously banned from eating with them as I could not manage the technique of using a single bite size piece of pita bread to scoop food from the communal bowl of Ful Medammas, without touching either the food or my mouth with my fingers. They knew I wiped my ass with my right hand. I was not desert toilet trained and therefore a real liability to their health. It didn’t take long to realize the reams of toilet paper I had used as a child, wrapped around my hand like a glove to protect me from the “devils sacrament”, served only to insulate me from our cultures stupidity with regards to ass cleaning. Back in my Cairo slum lodging, I looked with more interest at the strange brass tube that poked up under the toilet seat. Cautiously, I experimented with water pressure, ass placement and the careful use of my left middle finger. Unfortunately the toilets were communal and as every other unhygienic backpacker had a stomach bug the tubes were often caked in dried diarrhea. Obviously there were refinements needed to the Egyptian system! After much globetrotting, I have discovered that a lot of cultures prefer “pink eyes” to “brown eyes”. Hygiene is super important in hot countries that eat with their fingers. Later on, as a young Hippie I remember trying to convince a Giardia infested rainbow gathering to stop holding hands in a circle and wash properly...unfortunately it was not well received and the diarrhea and troppos spread rapidly. Letting go of my toilet paper addiction was a game changer for me. If I could make such an immense cultural leap forward, from the bottom up, so to speak, I could subvert any paradigm thrown my way. I was free to think outside the box on any number of things. Pushing cultural boundaries around the way we deal with our shit has been a very satisfying job for many years, both as an eco-sanitation consultant and general shit stirrer. These days I have reverted to a small use (3 sheets) of toilet paper initially then a thorough washing with a water bottle, then hand sanitizer to finish the job. I burn the toilet paper, rather than composting it, as a bit of ash is good for compost and paper can get wet with urine and create an ammonia smell in the loo. Anyone with a small batch type compost loo should avoid putting toilet paper in it as it prevents effective air flow and fills up the chamber too quickly. Apologies to the faint hearted but if you have read this far then you have earned the right to start experimenting with water yourself. Good luck and watch out for splash back….