Champions of Holding It

Georgia is a very different place from the United States.  This, of course, is both a good and a bad thing, depending on the specific differences.  I’ve found Georgians to be far more generous and hospitable than the typical American but perhaps more closed-minded than the average person in the United States.  Yes, yes, we have our closed-minded bigots in the US as well (where aren’t they?), but based on the circles I’ve traveled in the United States (only the most powerful bastions of the ivory tower [read: DC, San Francisco, Liberal Universities, and big, North-Eastern Cities) we’re more tolerant of differences overall.

Another major difference is the relative standard of cleanliness in bathrooms, public and private.  These days in the US, most public restrooms have automatic flushers and sinks so that you don’t have to dirty your hands by touching anything other people have touched (except the door handle, ick!).  In Georgia, you often have to pay to use a squalid squatty potty (See also: Squatter, Turkish Toilet).

I prefer my toilets to be fully stocked with potted plants.

If you ever chance to take a long-distance marshrutka across Georgia, you’ll probably stop at least once for a bathroom break.  There are a few notable rest stops that I’m familiar with.  One is just outside Kutaisi and the other is outside Zestaphoni (Note: “ph” in Georgian is pronounced like “p” + “h” making more of a “puh-huh” sound than an “eff” sound.  For example, think of it like “Zestap + Honi”).  The one you’ll stop at depends on where you’re departing from and what time of day it is.  The drivers will stop as close to dusk as they can without overshooting it by much.  They don’t want to be pulling over at eleven pm to feed and water their passengers!

I usually buy myself a coke and/or a khatchapuri for the road.  There are toilets there as well.  I dread the day I need to use them.  As a guy, a squatty potty is not a problem if you have to pee.  Just stand there, do your business, pay your twenty to fifty tetri, and be on your merry, relieved way.  However, if you need to do more than pee, you’re up a creek.

This is actually a lot nicer than the road-side one. It's in my school! Of note, the grooves where you put your feet and the constantly flowing water to wash away whatever you put in it.

I feel for the women who have to use squatters.  It seems like a real challenge!  I mean, you have to maintain balance over a small hole while not making a mess of your pants (i.e. peeing on them) and get your business done, sometimes within eyesight or earshot of other patrons of the toilet.  I really cannot write to the experience of a woman using a squatty potty, but if any care to share, don’t be shy!

As a result, I make sure to always use a Western-toilet before embarking on a long trip across the country.  Since my diet consists mostly of cheese and bread, that doesn’t always suffice and I find myself in desperate need of a potty somewhere halfway between Tbilisi and Zugdidi.  Sheer dread at the prospect of using a squatty potty, however, has turned me (and many of my co-volunteers, no doubt) into veritable Champions of Holding It.

I can go days if I have to.  The first day we hiked in Svaneti I thought to myself, as several girls backtracked to use the hostel restroom before departure, “Maybe I should go to the bathroom too.  Naaahhh.”  That was the wrong decision.  The whole hike, which took about nine hours round-trip, was an escalating crisis of bathroom needs.  I seriously contemplated altering the rhetorical/sarcastic question, “Does a bear shit in the woods?” to include “Raughley” where “a bear” used to be (Rather narcissistically, I often play the game “Replace ‘bear’ with ‘Raughley’” when I’m just sitting around pondering bears and bear stories [ßan untrue fact!]).  Luckily, by this point in my stay in Georgia I was already a Champion of Holding It and had little difficulty (if great discomfort) holding it the entire day.  Ian too, I believe.

My school is a great school.  The children are wonderful and my teachers are phenomenal.  When I hear other volunteers’ complaints about their teachers I marvel at the efficacy and quality of my own.  Tragically, the facilities at my school are a bit sub-par.  Don’t get me wrong, we just built a brand-new swimming pool and cafeteria (sadly, two separate locations.  The day we build a swimmingpool-cafeteria is the day I know I’ve died and gone…to the afterlife [I’m not going to claim to have access to Heaven, but I don’t want to cop to Hell just yet either!]), but most of my classrooms don’t have lightbulbs in them.  It’s going to be really awesome when it’s pitch dark in the middle of winter and we cannot do a thing about it!

We also have restrooms on nearly every floor.  It’s great!  You’re never too far from a bathroom if you need one!  Downside?  They’re all squatters.  I have long since mastered the art of holding it on marshrutka rides, hiking, and now, at school.  Maybe this is an unhealthy habit, but I really doubt my ability to successfully use a Turkish Toilet!  Mostly I’m worried about balancing for long enough.  One day, though, my Champion of Holding It status did not suffice and I buckled to the pressure building in my GI tract (Note: Not to be confused with the G.I. Bill)

We were at a shopping mall, buying boots (failure) and a laptop computer (success!) when it finally became too much.  I knew that I would have to go find a public restroom.  Seeing as we were in a very modern shopping mall, I figured it would be a good time to hit up the t’ualet’i.  I paid my twenty tetri and entered to find my own personal Hell waiting inside.  It wasn’t the lack of soap or the trough of a urinal that I was worried about.  I’ve used the restroom at the Pride’s Corner Drive-In Movie Theater—I’m no stranger to the trough.  All the toilets, though, were squatty potties.

The time had come to put my balance to the test.  I wasn’t sure exactly what to do with myself.  Was I supposed to take off my pants entirely?  That seemed unreasonable and unsanitary.  I could do a wall-sit and strain my quads (and gluts, I suppose) to make it work, but I think I’m far to out-of-shape for that to be anything but a stinking mess.  I settled on doing what I feared and just squatting down, feet on the foot-grooves (see above photo for an example of foot-grooves [Also, this was a very hyphen-heavy paragraph!]).

Making matters worse, my stall had a door that didn’t shut.  As I strained to squat and get my business done I also had to reach forward with one hand to hold the door shut with my fingers.  Any determined entrant to my stall would have little trouble forcing the door (and probably knocking my on my ass in the process [Oh god, that would be disgusting!]), but keeping the door from swinging open of its own volition provided me with some peace of mind.

Five to ten minutes later, I had successfully conquered the squatty potty!  I washed my hands, dried them on my pants (lack of paper towels) and rejoined my comrades in the shopping mall.  Not only was I a Champion of Holding It, I was on my way to becoming a Champion of the Squatty Potty.  It’ll take more practice to truly master it, but facing my own fears of pooping on myself (a very reasonable fear, I feel) was the first and most important step on the road to squatter mastery.  I’m ready.

Champions of Holding It also has a more noble, less scatological meaning that merits attention here as well.  As I mentioned before, American and Georgian sensibilities differ quite greatly.  Having traveled halfway around the world to live, teach, and learn in Georgia, I understand that it is not and can not be America.  I’ve (tearfully) embraced the fact that Dr. Pepper is rarely spotted outside the US of A and that Snickers here are made with Hazelnuts (in this case, the aforementioned tears are ones of joy).  I know that children live with their parents well into “adulthood” and that marriage is encouraged at a young age.  I know that homosexuality and female promiscuity are looked down upon rather strongly and there is a robust moral current running through Georgian society that some might find lacking in America (or at least in the parts of America I frequent).

I don’t want to damage my relations with the Georgians I know or will meet and I don’t want to give the impression of being a condescending, grandstanding asshole of an American.  I cherish my right to the freedom of speech, but keep in mind that the freedom of speech includes the freedom to keep silent.  Being a Champion of Holding It means knowing how and when to hold your tongue.

If something horrible happens to me or someone I know in Georgia, I will absolutely speak up and defend myself or my acquaintance, be they a student, a co-teacher, a colleague, or a family member.  However, it’s important to realize that there is a different set of moral codes and societal expectations here.  I am one man and though I can have a large impact on the lives of Georgians (especially in the classroom), it is not my place to “correct” gender roles or Sexual mores in Georgia.  The most I could accomplish by ranting against Georgian cultural/societal practices would be to distinguish myself and draw fire from Georgians everywhere.  Besides, I might be completely wrong in my assumptions and make an ass of myself in the process.

It reminds me of that Danish cartoon from years back.  I won’t reproduce it here, not because I’m afraid to, but because I don’t want to (it wasn’t even particularly funny!).  But it came down to freedom of speech (should that get capital letters, by the way?) vs. the mocking of a religious group and sparking increased fanaticism against the West (especially Denmark).  The cartoon showed Mohammed with a bomb for a turban.  Like I said, it’s not that funny of a joke in the first place.  It’s clearly at least mildly offensive as it’s a racially-culturally charged joke pointing at caricatures and misguided generalizations that Muslim = Terrorist.  So already it’s in pretty poor taste (though a strong argument can be made that offensive content is a bottomless well for Comedians).  Now contextualize it by acknowledging that it’s forbidden to portray human figures in Islam, especially the Prophet.  This Danish cartoonist had broken all sorts of taboos!

(Note: This would be a prime spot to discuss South Park and its portrayal of Mohammed years ago in one of its episodes [an excellent one, by the way] and more recently in order to play off the irrational fears of depicting Mohammed [If I recall, they had Mohammed in a bear suit in a U-haul truck talking to the people on the outside and eventually revealed that it wasn’t Mohammed at all.  Nonetheless the implied depiction of Mohammed sparked death threats against Comedy Central {Can you make a death threat against a network?} and the South Park creators from radical Muslims in…New York City{?}].)

Of course, being a citizen in a Western democracy with his civil rights protected, the cartoonist had every freedom to draw and publish such a cartoon.  He did nothing illegal and should have his expression of his beliefs and actions protected by his government.  That said, it was a bone-headed move that served no positive purpose.  Maybe one Dane laughed when they read the paper that day and hundreds of thousands in the Muslim world were incensed and enraged.  If I recall correctly, the Danish Embassy in Pakistan was even bombed!  You know the last time someone hated the Danes?  I can’t be sure, but I think it was Grendel’s Mother when she found out they had killed her son.

The point is, we have the freedom of speech but we have to use it responsibly.  Yeah, I am perfectly free to publish racist epithets on my blog and promote Nazism, Fascism, Communism, or even Genocide in the public domain.  I can think of a million reasons to refrain (Not the least of which is my non-support for racism, Nazism, Fascism, Communism, and Genocide).  Just because I have the right doesn’t mean I have to exercise it.  (Note: Man, those are extremes!  I suppose it helps to illustrate my point?  Maybe?)

When something irks me about Georgia (A rare enough event) I weigh the pros and cons of mentioning it.  If it seems important, I’ll raise my voice in protest.  If it seems like my voice can resolve the issue or alleviate the problem, I’ll raise it in protest.  If it seems like my crying from the bell tower will incite people and serve little constructive purpose, then it’s better to recognize my status as a Champion of Holding It and keep silent.

I can’t fix all of the world’s problems, and by arrogantly and brashly believing I can, there’s a good chance that I can make some of them worse.  It serves the world better to choose my battles with care and selectively exercise my Freedom of Speech to maximize its effectiveness.

So, in conclusion, I just want to reiterate how proud I am that I successfully used a squatty potty, disaster-free!

PS- Those of you who were with me at the shopping mall didn’t know that’s why I disappeared for so long, did you?



3 thoughts on “Champions of Holding It

  1. You asked, I reply: Before going overseas, I read a short travel essay on best techniques for women for using a turkish style toilet. Yes, you can read up on just about anything at your local library or on the internet, and the info actually was quite useful.
    Best advice:
    *Roll up your pant legs to about knee high or tuck your long skirt ends up into your waistband. Do this first.
    *Balance your weight slightly forward towards the balls of your feel to counter balance your bum.
    ->Since I go to the gym fairly regularily and do squats with weights, it’s not too difficult for me to use one of these commodes. But the less agile, or less fit, or simply elderly might have a tougher time.

    *Bring your own TP but do not put it into the commode, put it into the trash can which is usually available.
    *Bring your own soap. I find these wonderful little soap ‘leaves’ for travelers. They come in small packets, small enough to fit into my purse and each one is like a small transparent slice of soap. I carry these everywhere and they have come in handy many times.
    –>Best advice: Be prepared and not squeamish. Remember sh*t washes off with a little soap and water. Since I have your own soap, and I usually carry some sort of drinking water, I can go any time, any where….even in the woods!
    Call me Master of Not Holding It.

  2. Connie’s got it right! I am relieved to hear that I am not the only one who rolls her pant legs up to her knees every time she needs to go. I’ve always wondered if there was a less silly way to do it but apparently there isn’t. Everything about those toilets is silly, I guess. But man, once the skill is mastered(/your hamstrings get used to it), you feel SO accomplished… or at least I do. I mean, it’s all about the little victories when you’re living in a foreign country, am I right? …Umm. Well, in any case it sure makes life easier to know I don’t *need* a Western-style toilet when I’m out in the city.

    How elderly or less fit women do it is beyond me. I wonder about this relatively often, generally when I happen to be using a turkish-style toilet.

    Also, I approve of this post. My only suggestion would be to maybe spice things up a bit. You know, to like, sprinkle in some offensive comments about large groups of people who are hosting you, or something. Your traffic/comment count might get a little boost. Just a thought.

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