Monday, November 13, 2006

The Call of Nature

Anyone who has travelled has a story to tell about less than ideal bathroom facilities. Discussing bodily functions is not done in polite company, but our need for elimination does occupy our thoughts frequently throughout the day.
In the hospital, all incidents are dutifully recorded and measured if necessary for the patient record, and aberrations are dealt with quickly.
In my community job, I carefully plan my route, especially in rural areas, to make sure there is a decent facility somewhere when needed. On two occasions I have visited homes in nearby towns that had no indoor facilities, a situation that I found shocking for this part of Canada.
My daughter recently returned from a trip to Europe, and told us of bathrooms consisting of just a hole in the floor. Others were so small, that a taller person could not maneuver in them, and others were costly “pay toilets”.
When I first visited Mexico in the mid 1970’s, I found the roadside bathroom situation to be appalling. I remember one gas station where the door-less stall faced the gas pumps. My brother kindly stood in the “doorway” with his back to me so I could have a little privacy. This picture shows a bathroom that served the needs of several families in a community we visited. The purple ceramic toilet was placed on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The corrugated steel provided a measure protection as you sat and looked out at the magnificent view. Of course there was no plumbing available, but in my experience, plumbing did not improve the function of the average Mexican toilet.
When I was travelling in Mexico earlier this year, I found the bathroom situation was vastly improved. Since the advent of the Free Trade Agreement, an excellent toll road system has been constructed in the country and on the whole, the rest stops were clean and efficient. In all my travels, I can honestly say I do not recall becoming ill from using facilities that were not up to our Western standards.
Peter Menzel wrote a magnificent book featuring photographs and stories called Sierra Club: Material World: a Global Family Portrait. The cover reads,
In honor of the United Nations-sponsored International Year of the Family in 1994, award-winning photojournalist Peter Menzel brought together 16 of the world's leading photographers to create a visual portrait of life in 30 nations. Material World tackles its wide subject by zooming in, allowing one household to represent an entire nation. Photographers spent one week living with a "statistically average" family in each country, learning about their work, their attitudes toward their possessions, and their hopes for the future. Then a "big picture" shot of the family was taken outside the dwelling, surrounded by all their (many or few) material goods.
A number of "facilities" are featured, from a tree on the edge of a property in North Africa, to a gold plated fixture in Saudi Arabia. I would recommend looking for this book (which deals with much more than bathrooms) in a library or bookstore for an intimate look at the lives of families around the world.


  1. Hopefully the toilet she saw that was just a hole in the floor was one of the "higher tech" ones with a chain to hold on to :)

  2. I will have to ask her... ;)
    I would definitely want the chain!


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