Friday, August 07, 2009

Flashback Friday: A bathroom emergency in Salt

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.


Susanne said...

Ah, the bathroom situation was really the only thing I didn't like about my time in Syria. (OK..the smoking, too.) I am SO glad you offered advice to me on this subject prior to our trip. You helped me mentally prepare for what I might expect...thank you, thank you, thank you!

Interestingly, my Syrian friend is leaving soon for college in Germany and one of the things he is worried about are the bathrooms there.

Another great post. :)

Liz Johnson said...

Hahahahahaha. Really, the whole world is one big bathroom if you think about it. I couldn't get over people waiting in line to use the restroom after coming back from the ranchos. Why not use that perfectly good corner?!

The Ensign's said...

Maybe it' stories like this that have left me little to no desire to travel outside the US

Laura said...

Smart move to make him think that Miriam had to use the bathroom. I also would have put the tissues in my pocket too.

JackJen said...

Using public restrooms is one of my greatest insecurities.

Kudos to you.

Note to self: practice squatting before visiting the middle east.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

Bridget, you should share that experience of the sign in the bathrooms in that Moscow store about not standing on the toilet seat. :-)

Or about the train trip to St. Petersburg. ("Is that your man!")

Hey, you could write an entire book on this topic!

Jen and Reed said...

You are brave for sharing that story. Hopefully, no one will lose any respect for you. I would not have been able to place any type of excrement into any folds of my clothes. Hee hee.

Ashley said...

Oh I remember...the thing I hated most was having to roll up my pants because I had no idea what was floating around in the inch deep water at my feet...

Suzanne Bubnash said...

That previous comment by "me" was actually Craig. I was thinking that the aroma in parts of Salt indicates that not many people are fussy about where they do their business. Aside from that unpleasantness, it's one of the more fascinating cities in Jordan.

Nancy said...

:) I have lost no respect for you at all. Squatting while pregnant and holding a "door" closed and your pants up at the same time? No easy feat. That toilet also had no flusher mechanism aside from a container of water, which I assumed was to wash stuff down the hole...

Rachel has peed in front of the pyramids and a myriad of other places.

Just the other day Andrew took Rachel potty in the women's washroom because he was too grossed out by the men's. :)

Russian bathrooms are interesting, too. :)

Kat Clark said...

That is the least gross story I have ever heard. For the first little bit I thought you were talking about having to go number two and that was kind of gross but pee? Really?! It's not gross, it's just pee. Sanitary really. So don't worry about being gross. Maybe I am just overly casual about bathroom affairs.

Kristen said...

I'm also pretty casual about bathroom "affairs," but am "relieved" (ha ha) that you didn't have to poop.


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