An American's Toilet Paper Nightmare in Southeast Asia


I KICK MY FEET against the base of the ceramic bowl that I'm sitting on, contemplating my current predicament. I'm not seeing any sign of a niche for where a roll of toilet paper would go, and I'm not liking the look of this slightly rusted hose mounted to the toilet. Or the beat-up old rag in the small pail of dirty water next to me. Or the fact that this is the first time in my life where I'm actually going to have to wash myself rather than use the comfortable soft paper I've been using for the past twenty-three years of my life.
     

at's what you get when you're way out in the provinces. When you're over 7,000 miles away from home in a flooded third-world land, and your worldly comforts are stripped right out from underneath you. I breathe in the stagnant aromas of the overflowing river in the backyard as I try to swat the mosquitoes that are having the time of their lives gorging on my foreign blood. They leave behind delectable bright red tattoos across the lengths of my hairy legs—fat old welts that are destined to itch for weeks upon weeks. I find it fascinating watching a trail of ants, capillaries seeping through the cracks of the flooded house,  as they feast upon the bacteria left behind on my toothbrush. It's as if the entire room was moving, crawling, alive. “Welcome to the Philippines,” I joke to myself, imagining all of those postcards of crystal clear beaches with sunburnt Americans and Europeans vacationing and wondering what country they were in. Certainly they aren't where I'm at.
     
The silence is interrupted with a rude knock on the door accompanied with a bit of Tagalog, Kapampangan, or whatever is being slung my way (they all sound the same: loud and choppy river dialects). I'm assuming along the lines of “Are you OK in there?!” Too embarrassed and proud to admit my defeat to these children I frantically look for something, anything, other than that hose and rag. My bag and sketchbook seem like they are miles away from me at the moment, along with it any hope to desperately tear out some empty pages to wipe with. I hear more knocking and giggling on the other side of the door. I finally cave into the dire hopes for the soft smooth paper I desire and reach for the hose attached to the toilet.
     
I wince as I squeeze the handle.
     
A couple more minutes later and I'm walking out of the bathroom with my head hung low and red, with an indiscreet wet blotch on my bottom. I may as well have produced a flag and shoved it into my shorts marking my surrender as I made my way into the bedroom to shove my face into the hard pillow to hide the redness of embarrassment. My girlfriend Jeleen follows me into the room while trying to coax me into telling her what's wrong, deeply concerned on why I would just take off so quickly from the household. I roll onto my back to hide the wet spot and face the ceiling of the stiflingly hot room, as I'm confessing my humiliation from moments ago. I don't even get through half of my actual conversation before she's on the ground rolling from laughter.
An American's Toilet Paper Nightmare in Southeast Asia continues...
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About Erik Thurman


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Erik Thurman is a writer/illustrator who strongly believes in the power of visual communication and its ability to reach an audience regardless of language barriers. From the experiences that he obtained while working in the intelligence and communication fields with the military, along with his resolve...read more through international solo travel and command of six languages, Erik has sought to try to do more for the next generation than he possibly could while in uniform. This includes working as an educator building self-substaining arts and humanities programs around the world, promoting child empowerment and comprehensive education, and engaging social and political action through the use of non- fictional comics.
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   2 years ago
Having travelled to the Phillipines I can appreciate tr moments in this piece. The weird juxtaposition between everything that sucks about another country when you arrive to live there...and everything that sucks about your own when you come back.

I was never converted to the bucket of water system,...read more though. How is a soapy rag, that has presumably been used by other people (and who knows how effectively they use it!) any more trustworthy than soap and water? Call me an elitist but I prefer my papier de toilette!

I had a Philippino roommate for a while though and he always had a pot of water by the toilet. He was a total concert to westernized ways...but I guess he couldn't give that part up. There might be something to be said for it.

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