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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Book Excerpt #1 - "Mukhabarat, Baby!", By Eric Burkhart


(The time has arrived to begin sharing excerpts from my soon-to-be published memoir, Mukhabarat, Baby! Since creating the blog in early September, I have added new posts
daily, and on a few occasions, I have written two new posts on the same day. When the media is focused almost exclusively on two or three topics, it can be difficult writing posts that are both fresh and relevant. I welcome the opportunity to take a one-day hiatus from writing. The first few excerpts will not be taken from my Agency career. Those excerpts will be posted when the time is appropriate). 

The subject of the day is "toilets". We all use them (if they are available), and on occasion, we like to discuss them. Scatalogical humor aside, toilets (and toilet paper) are a important part of our culture and traditions. I wrote this piece in Turkey, of all places. Approach it with the right attitude, and you just might discover something useful.


TOILETS

I'm grateful that my family always lived in homes with plumbing and private, attached WCs.  My childhood recollections, though, are of toilet paper that may have been designed by the Marquis de Sade.  My earliest memories of French toilet paper are of packages of mild sand paper that was used one sheet (yes, I said sheet) at a time.  No one ever complained because its what everyone used. When I was older I noticed that Auchan and Leder Price and Euromarche carried a wide variety of toilet paper, including expensive brands that were soft and even double-ply.  I never thought that the average French family would change this particular habit.  The French do not waste time in the WC as Americans do.  Its a place to visit by obligation, and certainly not a place to read the newspaper.  And toilet paper does not need to be pretty or soft.  But to my surprise, some of the old habits have begun to give way just a bit.  Most houses in France now have roll toilet paper as you see in the rest of Western Europe, and its not required to cause discomfort in use.  Every decade sees a "softening" of this attitude, for which I am very, very grateful.
As for the toilets themselves, western Europe and the United States regularly outdo each other with modern designs and useless contraptions.  What is important, though, is that everyone seems to be on the same page regarding the necessity of a guaranteed "flush".  There is nothing more horrifying than a backed-up toilet, especially when you're not at home.  This is one of the reasons I make every effort possible to take care of business where I am most comfortable.  Having spent time in the Balkans and Turkey, I am familiar with what is known internationally as "the Turkish toilet".  For those few who are unfamiliar with this waste removal process, basically it consists of two places to put your feet, and a hole from which to drop off the laundry.  It sounds simple, but it can be tricky.  For a man, its a question of balance.  If you can squat for a few seconds with no difficulty, then you should be OK.  Lets be kind and not visit the subject of "wiping".  How women use a Turkish toilet, though, has always been a mystery to me, especially since they are so prevalent in Muslim countries.  Without disrobing completely, how does a woman wearing a full Burkha (and accoutrement) squat without getting everything wet or otherwise soiled?  I've heard many international travelers sing the praises of the Turkish toilet because it eliminates the need to contact a communal  seat.  I get it; I can only imagine what flavor of creepy-crawlies inhabit the seat of a communal toilet in Mumbai (or the Bronx, for that matter).  But I'm not a proponent of the Turkish toilet.  Too much can go wrong; what if you slip, or get a cramp?  And if you're using a multi-unit WC (they exist; I've seen them), you'd better hope that the bloke next to you doesn't slip (splash!).  As I commented previously, give me a shovel, some Kleenex, and a little forested area, and I'm good to go.  And ladies, as I learned during my holiday at The Farm, bugs will not crawl up into your naughty bits while you are going about your business.  Yes, there are some insects who have an interest in whats going on, but the doodle bugs will politely wait until you're done to play around in your poop.
During the time that I spent living and traveling in the Balkans, I made every respectable effort possible to discover the reason for the design of the Balkans toilet.  No one seemed to have an answer, least of all the locals.  As we already know, this one can't be blamed on the Turks (Ottoman Turkey "occupied" much of the Balkans from the late 16th century to the early 20th century, therefore the Turks get the blame for just about every long-term problem).  The Balkans toilet deceptively resembles every other typical, white, porcelain,  "western",  bowl.....until you look inside.  Balkans  toilets (I believe this design is in use in Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia and Russia as well, but not Chechnya.  According to Russian state television Chechnyans prefer to just take a shit in the middle of the living room floor) have a little "shelf" before the pool of water.  Needless to say (and I'm gonna say it anyways), the poop lands on this shelf, as opposed to western toilets, where it is deposited directly into the water.  Once the Balkan toilet is flushed, the water flowing from under the rim of the toilet pushes everything into the bowl where it is whisked away.  As long as it works, whats the problem, you ask?  The problem is the streak of evidence that is left in the toilet every time someone takes a grumpy.  If you're lucky (or unlucky), you'll find a brush and you can remove the evidence from the shelf.  But in most public WCs that I've visited, it just collects and becomes part of the shelf.  I'm sure the inventor of the Balkans toilet had a reason for creating the little shelf, but it has me stumped.  Why not just let things collect in the pool of water, to be shortly whisked away, like we to in America?  Why is it necessary to create the Balkans Bacon Strip?

2 comments:

  1. When i first encountered the 'shelf' in Germany in '72, i remember thinking how 'German' it was. You could give a cursory visual 'exam' to your 'product' and then flush. Germans want to know about *everything*. The 'display' of one's duty struck me as a bit too prideful, however. And much as i loved Germany, i was never so grateful to return home and to American TP!

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  2. I have given this some serious thought,....the shelf reduces the splash factor.

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