Monday, July 20, 2009

Potty Break

I think it's time I expose the tragedy that is the public bathrooms here in the Philippines...

When we first arrived here in the Philippines I was told that the most important thing to keep on me at all times is not my passport incase I need to show it to the proper authorities, nor is it my cell phone in case of an emergency. It's not even mace incase I need to ward off a potential attacker. No. In fact... it's toilet paper.

Why? Might you ask....

Well.....

In the Philippines, the restroom is referred to as the "comfort room" or the "CR." I can state with complete conviction that there is little comfort when it comes to these facilities.

A side from the normal complaints regarding cleanliness, there are a number of other issues to worry about.

Let me explain. The first thing I noticed about the public restrooms here are the toilet seats. And the fact, that well... there aren't any. For the most part there is just a toilet bowl and a tank. This means you must choose between a balancing act or a leg work out... take your pick.

Toilet paper here is a hot commodity and it is expensive so it is not provided in public restrooms. You have to bring your own. They actually sell toilet paper here without the card board roll so it takes up less space in your purse. Genius huh?

At first, I was confused about this no toilet paper business. So I asked Chat about this. She is the best source when I need to ask embarrassing questions...

Me: Hey Chat. Why isn't there toilet paper in the bathrooms?
Chat: Mam?
Me: You know how in the mall... or in the gas stations there is no toilet paper?? Why is there no toilet paper in the bathrooms?
Chat: Oh Mam, hehehe. You know, it is expensive.
Me: So, if they did put it in there would people steal it?
Chat: Yes. People would steal.
Me: So you just bring your own then?
Chat: Yes mam. Much better. But you know, if you just wee wee then its ok. But what if a poo surprises you? hehehe.
Me: hahahaha. So true.
Chat: In your country... you have paper in the CR?
Me: Oh yes. We get cranky and complain if we don't. We are needy Americans.
Chat: hehehehe.

If you are smart enough to remember your own toilet paper, don't even think about flushing it down the toilet. The water system here is very temperamental... (just like everything else) and the toilets are easily clogged... imagine that. Therefore, there is a garbage can next to each toilet... and I'll let you use your imagination on what the contents of that look like.... barf!

As I mentioned before the toilets are unpredictable, which means they often don't flush. But don't you worry because the Filipinos have thought this through. In every bathroom there is a community bucket. This bucket is to be filled with water and poured down the toilet when it refuses to flush.

This happens often... fabulous.

This bucket is quite functional because it is also used as a portable bidet. And honestly... I can't find the right words to even begin to explain how I feel about that...

Forget soap and paper towels... not gonna happen. You may get a hand dryer... but chances are, it won't work.

Well, soon after we arrived in the Philippines I went to get my driver's license. In order to get your driver's license in the Philippines you have to pass a drug test. Which means you have to pee in a cup. Always a pleasure...

The drug testing facility was packed... a long line of men in a small, non air-conditioned, and definitely not properly ventilated room about the size of a closet. Since I was the only woman, and being the gracious people they are, they insisted I sit, which would have been fine if the only chair had not been positioned in front of the bathroom... the bathroom in which the "fill the cup" portion of the test would be taking place.

Which really wasn't a bath room at all...

It was a small nook in the corner of the room with no toilet, (so I hope they all have good aim) and a door which was to remain open so they could be monitored. Unfortunately, I think it was me who was doing all the monitoring. I kept inching my chair as far away as possible.... while resisting the temptation to reach over and pinch their butts.

The whole time I couldn't help thinking what was going to happen when they called my name, and handed me my cup.

Me: "So...I'm not peeing in there. There is about 30 people in here... and men at that. They want me to pop a squat, in a closet, with the door open... over a cup?! They are out of their damn minds. It's not like I can just turn and face the wall, like a guy... Oh this is ridiculous. I'll probably get stage fright... or pee all over my hand."

The lady at the front interrupted the conversation I was having with myself when she called my name and handed me my cup.

Lady: You can go to the back.
Me: Oh thank God!

The back room was slightly better... but I can't say I was impressed. The only good thing about it was that there would only be one girl watching me "fill the cup," instead of a room full of men.

The back "bathroom" consisted of a toilet bowl and a wet floor. Wet with what... I can't say, and I'm not sure I want to think about it. All I know is my flip flops were sliding all over the floor and whatever that liquid was... it was in between my toes.

And when I say bowl... I mean just that. No handle for flushing... why? Well, there was no tank. And definitely no seat. It was the most naked toilet I have ever seen. Plus, it was positioned in the middle of the room...

Me: Hmmm... go in here?
Girl: Yeah, don't close the door.
Me: Ok....

So there I am... determined to keep all parts of my feet on my flops... like that will protect me from the sewage under my feet. Plus, I'm trying to juggle my huge purse and "the cup" while struggling to unbutton my pants, trying to keep them from touching the floor and struggling to maintain my balance. Not to mention the fact that I risk diving face first in to Lake Pee-pee. I knew it wasn't going to work.

Me: Hey, will you go give my purse to that tall white guy out there?
Girl: I'll just set it here. (She sets in the middle of a table filled with people. None of which are Lee."
Me: Ok... thanks...


Great. Everything I own is in that purse... passport, driver's license, credit cards, cash, camera, cell phone... if somebody steals anything in there... I'll kill them.

I have to pee fast!

I run back to the back.... slipping and sliding... trying to go as fast as I can.

I'll spare you the rest of the dirty details... I didn't fall in... thank heavens! But just know I left there with wet feet, wet shorts, and pee on my hand; but hey... at least my dignity and everything in my purse was still intact. I have never been so happy to give someone my "cup."

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Before I posted this entry, Lee read it. And he said that he has never run in to any of these issues regarding the toilets. Which makes sense... since he has the luxury of standing.

But it reminded me of the fact that it is legal to urinate in public in the Philippines. In fact, I think people actually walk outside to pee. You would be amazed at how many men I've witnessed peeing since we've been here. It's gotten to the point where I've started counting whenever we go places.

By the airport there is even a place labeled "Men's CR." But it is just a wall to hide yourself from the traffic. No toilet, no hole... just a wall. Classic.