Living in a foreign country is filled with daily annoyances until you learn to adapt. Even some of the most mundane and basic of tasks are done completely different causing you to pause and think through a process that was second nature in your home country. Sometimes, you never adapt and that one action will always make you think of home. The bathrooms were a daily annoyance to me in Ecuador and one in which I never quite accepted (along with eating so much damn rice). Below are two journal entries that border on bathroom humor but at the same time give a picture of daily life.
I was infected by the travel bug as a junior in college on a study abroad program to Ecuador. The adventure pushed me completely out of my comfort zone and caused me to challenge how and what I thought about the world. I grew up somewhat spoiled as an only child enjoying comforts that most twenty-ones year olds didn’t. Below are exerts from the journal I kept as my conventions were challenged and upturned. For the most part, these entries are raw and un-edited. That is on purpose, I think they show the purity of the transformation I went through. The adventure took place during one of the most challenging times in Ecuador’s history as the country emerged from near civil war the year prior with the overthrow of their president and was soon adopting the US dollar as its official currency.
April 14, 2000
Today’s cultural annoyance – the bathrooms. What is up with the bathrooms here? How can something so utilitarian be so different? I can’t even flush the toilet paper down the toilet after I wipe my ass. I have to throw it in the garbage can next to the toilet because the plumbing sucks. And it’s just not in our house. It’s everywhere. Even the fancy five-star hotel in Quito. Every bathroom has the aroma of crap because of garbage cans filled with shit crammed toilet paper. Gross.
But it gets worse. There’s no toilet seat on the toilet in our house. Do you know how cold the porcelain is on a bare ass? Now I know why my Aunt Marla always yelled at me for leaving the seat up! Try having the seat missing. I line toilet paper (that will end up in the garbage can) along the bowl as a blanket to help warm my toosh.
I wish I was done, but I’m not. Onto the shower! The water is not heated with a hot water tank. Instead, the water is heated through an electrical show head. Hmm… I always thought electricity and water didn’t mix? But no, let’s bring the hair dryer into the shower. Makes sense, right? The temperature level isn’t determined by a hot to cold handle, but by how hard the water is flowing through the faucet head. If you’re looking for a strong shower, then expect icy cold. If you just run the shower at a trickle, you’ll scold the skin right off of your back. They call it the boiling trickle. And the head is about a foot lower than in the United States. I have to squat while showering to keep from bumping my head on the electric shower head.
May 19, 2000
I could tell today was going to be disastrous from the very beginning. I woke up at my normal time and stumbled to the bathroom only to find my sister in there using the shower not during her scheduled time. Bathroom occupied. I had to go so I made my way to the half-bath off the living room. The one that’s only used by the men of the house when they are drinking. The one that is seldom cleaned and reeks of piss because more makes it on the floor than in the toilet.
As I close the door, the knob breaks. I am trapped. Since almost everyone is still sleeping, I have to pound on the door hard and yell loud for help. Chio and Señora Valverde came to my rescure. After a half hour of jimmying the door, it finally opens. It was now 8:00. I hadn’t showered or eaten, and I was late to class. The rest of my day fell accordingly. This trip is such a roller coast of emotions and occurrences, sometimes I just can’t wait to get the hell off.