We've talked before about bathrooms in the Middle East. They are not the crown jewel of that civilization. But sometimes, when you're out sight-seeing in old ruins, you've just gotta go. When I was pregnant with Miriam, we visited Serjilla, Syria, one of the Dead Cities, and as we paid our 50-cent admission fee to the gatekeeper at the parking lot, I asked him where the bathrooms were. He gave me a puzzled look and then did something I'll never forget: wordlessly, he swept his arm in a wide arc out over the ruins of the ancient city, encompassing the entire hillside with all its crumbling buildings and grassed-over nooks and crannies. That was my answer. And I hope it's not TMI to tell you that I took his advice. Like I said, sometimes you've just gotta go.
If that's TMI for you, then you had better not read on, because the Flashback Friday story for today requires me to go into slightly more detail about this whole bathroom thing.
It was the summer of 2007 and Jeremy, Miriam, and I were living in Amman, Jordan, watching over our flock of BYU Arabic Study Abroad students. One Saturday, we decided to go visit the city of Salt, just an hour or so bus ride away. We explored the modern city, took a look at the Ottoman-ish-era market, and climbed up to a mosque on the hill. After all was said and done, it was a beautiful outing to a peaceful, pleasant city. But before we got back onto the bus to Amman, I just had to go to the bathroom.
Miriam on the bus ride from Amman to Salt.
I suspected there were probably some kind of bathroom facilities at the transportation hub where we would catch our bus, but I really didn't want to know about them. I once used the ladies' room at the bus station in Lattakia, Syria - actually, it was a men's room that the attendant cleared out for me and then stood guard in front of because there was no ladies' room - and it was just not an experience I ever wanted to have again.
At the souq.
So Jeremy and I, with Miriam in tow, looked around casually for a discreet place where I could, ahem, relieve my waters. Nothing. All men need to go to the bathroom in public is coverage on two sides, like a corner. I think with a little bravery, they could do with even less. Women need a bit more privacy, even in an emergency such as the one I found myself in.
We walked a little ways and then saw a small shop. That's when I got the brilliant idea to use Miriam as a sort of shield, both for my modesty and for my motives. We walked into the shop, chatted with the clerk/owner for a few minutes, and then asked if our daughter could use their bathroom.
Now, we didn't lie outright, but it's possible that the store owner got the impression that Miriam actually needed to pee into a potty. This was not the case - she was still in diapers at the time. But we glossed over the finer details and next thing I knew, the owner was escorting us kindly to the back of the store where his toilet was, and then he returned to the front of the store to chat with Jeremy.
I use the word "toilet" very loosely, because what I saw when I rounded the back corner with Miriam was just a hole in the ground (with foot treads on the side, a lovely touch). There was no toilet paper and no flushing mechanism, the lack of both of which I was used to, but there was also no door, which I really wasn't used to.
But man oh man, I had to go. So I did. I set Miriam in front of me to block out the open doorway a little and tried to put out of my mind the fact that for all the storekeeper knew, it was a tiny little girl going to the bathroom, not an adult, so he might walk past the area not thinking anything about our privacy.
Somehow, I managed to finish in good time. My business done, I encountered the minor obstacle of not having anywhere to put the used toilet paper (of course I had brought my own, that's the first lesson you learn in the Middle East: always have some kind of tissue with you). I couldn't just leave it there, so I wrapped it in some clean tissues and put it in my pocket. Gross, I know, but what would you have done?
We walked out of that bathroom calm as could be and thanked the storekeeper profusely for letting "our daughter" use his bathroom. He said no problem, and we were on our way.
And I threw away the tissues the first chance I got.