One thing, that after innumerable trips to countless cities across Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, the one thing that American busses have on their Turkish counterparts is: the toilet.
Now, getting stuck with a seat next to the lavatory on a multi-hour trip can be frustrating, especially if a passenger or two are suffering from indigestion, but at least its there.
Back in August when we arrived in Turkey, we were put up in a less-than-stellar hotel in Bahçelievler in Ankara. The rooms were fine, the staff was fine, the conference facilities were fine, but the food was so sub par we all ended up with travelers diarrhea. This was my third trip to Turkey, and though I was afflicted with sinus infections the last two times, I had never, even once suffered any digestive discomfort from Turkish food, even after drinking the tap water. One of my colleagues wound up in the hospital with salmonella so perhaps it wasn’t travelers diarrhea but rather food poisoning, in any case, there was a great and frequent need for toilets.
Our conference was on the second floor, and most of our rooms several floors up. The problem was, much to our horror, that the nearest toilets were all squats. This left several of us with a dilemma, and before you start to judge, saying squats aren’t so bad, remember we’re talking about food poisoning and we’re talking long and frequent squat sessions. To those with little or no experience in this: it really hurts your thighs and it makes your feet fall asleep leaving you teetering on a pee-covered floor as the motion-sensor light flickers out. Its scary, its tiring, its uncomfortable.
Now, there are those who have been won over by the squats. They have their merits to be sure, but there is something rarely considered by those who use them frequently: what if you can’t squat?
No, really, what if you’re mobility challenged, or drunk? What if you can’t balance for one reason or another? This very thing occurred to two friends of mine, first my colleague who broke her foot after rolling her ankle while jogging at a different conference in Ankara, and the other my colleague here in T-dag, affectionately called The Patient, who had a broken knee and ripped calf muscle. How on Earth do you squat when you only have one foot?
Answer? You don’t.
You don’t drink water. You don’t drink tea. You pray, and pray, and pray that you’ll make it home before Nature calls.
When it came time to leave our conference and head to our sites, we all suffered the same fear: what will I do on a 6-8-10-20 hour bus ride if I need to poo every half hour? Most of us either ate only bread and no water for the few days preceding our trip, or simply ate nothing, so there was nothing to pass. Neither was a desirable or healthy way to handle the problem, but it worked. Well, as far as I know it worked.
But squatters are something you’ve simply got to embrace here.
This little video helps explain how ridiculous I felt the first time I came to Turkey and the first time I encountered a squatter, the embedding isn’t working and I’ve tried everything, please watch it, its hilarious. Its from a film called Ay Lav Yu about a Turkish man from the middle of nowhere, who falls in love with an American girl, Jessica. Jessica’s parents come, and don’t know how to use a squatter, so they have fashioned this chair for them to use in the latrine. This enterprising character is trying to sell them to the locals as the new hip American toilets, as you can see Nazif Amca is skeptical.
You might be inclined to laugh at the scene, but really, I would have appeared just as ridiculous to a Turk,
What direction do you face? The door? The wall? How far down do you squat? Do you, like, hover? Or do you do the yoga squat? How do you flush? What is that little bucket and spigot for? Why is it wet everywhere? Please tell me that’s water and not pee? Where’s the TP? Oh the TP goes in the trash bin? Really? Oops.
When you move to a new place, there are bound to be differences, but its the differences in sanatation that really stick with you, though I suppose its not a common topic in polite conversation, which is why many of us are shocked when we arrive in a new country.
So there you have it: a la turka/ a la franka. Pick your poison.