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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Cradle of Civilization

The famous director Federico Fellini (how come I've never heard of him, Bruck?) once observed that there are two things that always look good on film: trains and snow. He's right of course, and so whenever I see a movie scene with a train muscling through a snowy meadow or cityscape, my first thought is, there's a cheap stunt! Well, along those same lines, a notable blogger once observed that there's one topic that always works well in a VOB column: toilets in a foreign country.

I'm currently stationed in the middle east, the exact location and some of the circumstances which compel my presence to be divulged upon my return to the blue mountains of VA. But for now, here I am toiling away in the hot sun (in the chilly air conditioning, actually) and enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells that this austere corner of the world has to offer.

Those of you with a modicum of cultural awareness probably already know that in Arab cultures, the left hand is considered “unclean,” and all business and personal contact, including eating, is to be conducted with the right hand insofar as possible. There may be some superstitious and/or religious reasons behind this, but the practical reason is that the left hand is used for personal hygiene following the act of dropping friends off at the pool. The exact mechanics of said hygiene I may never learn, but the limited information I have is that outdoors, it involves a flat stone, and indoors, it involves a hose and sprayer attachment. And no toilet paper in either place.

That's right, no toilet paper. Unless you're in an establishment that caters to westerners, you won't find TP in the restroom, so the prepared traveler brings his own. But there's always a water sprayer. Again, I don't know what the actual mechanics of using a sprayer are, but somehow it always results in the entire closet, including the toilet, ending up wet.

Another reason why I may never attain any insight into the process of laying cable and succeeding hygiene is that it appears to be an extremely private affair. Each toilet, even in the most remote camel trough, has its own fully-walled-in closet. So we'll never know – just how does one use a sprayer to clean the nether regions? What do they do about stubborn klingons? And does one just let one's pants soak up the excess water? Enquiring minds, you know!

So Bruck, when are we going to get to the toilets themselves? Any odd configurations or unusual features? Well no, not really, and this is a cultural observation in and of itself. What passes for civilization came late to this part of the world, so the pertinent apparatus pretty much went straight from flat stones to western-style commodes, with no intermediate species. But dig, not American-style ones. No, they had to go with the European style bowl, which does not sink the digestive products beneath a layer of water, preserving a path for activated methane molecules directly from said products to the olfactory nerves.

...which compels a courtesy flush, not so much for courtesy to fellow restroom patrons, but for one's own health and welfare. And this brings an aspect of the solids elimination experience that I'd wager has never mattered to you, or even crossed your mind: the temperature of the water in the bowl.

It's not quite summer yet, but the daily highs are consistently above 105 of late, and often above 110. And since it never gets anywhere near freezing all year, plumbing on the outside of a building is a common construction practice. So... a little science class here – with the hot desert sun beating down on the exposed pipes all afternoon, the water gets much hotter than ambient, which is already pretty toasty. So you're sitting there with the fresh water coursing in beneath your booteus maximus, when you realize, dang, it's really getting hot down there, and not in a good way!

I think it's important that we denizens of the western world endeavor to understand our eastern neighbors, and for those of you who have not already been here, a “hajj” to the middle east would be a highly advisable addition to your bucket list. But unless you plan to bring your own bucket, my recommendation is to consume enough Kaopectate prior to arrival as to ensure that you will never actually complete any digestive processes until you're comfortably back on home ice. As Salamu Alaykum!


  • At 4:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    So Sylvestor Stallone's Demolition Man movie is right on the mark with the 3 shells

  • At 9:44 PM, Blogger Spaz said…

    Just wanted to say "Hi" and "Happy Thanksgiving". We had a great time with you, Noreen and the rest of the family last year. This is the only email-like contact I have for you and just wanted to send you a note, as well as find out when you'll be back. I have been shooting sporting clays (Bull Run)with some friends (like minded guys you'd probably get along w/ as well). I hope all is well w/ you and yours.
    Stay Safe,


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