A couple years ago World Hum had a clever little article on how to use a squat toilet. I was glad to finally see some practical advice on the subject, but disappointed with it for two reasons: 1) I had just come up with a similar article idea myself, and had wanted to pitch it to WH; and 2) it was, frustratingly, predictably, once again, annoyingly, written with a male audience in mind — or, at very best, an audience in good physical shape.
Okay, you’ve read the article, giggled a bit, snorted maybe. I did, too, although I still don’t understand men’s infatuation with their asses. Maybe we don’t want to pursue that too far … Anyway, so you’ve thought, “What’s she talking about? Women have to wipe crap out of their bums too, don’t they/we?” Yes, but, cute as the piece was, I don’t actually need instruction on how to wash my bum. The article completely leapfrogged over the fact that women have to squat to pee as well as to poop. Gasp. In general, women can’t stand up over a grate or squat toilet to pee. We don’t have penises.
(Side Rant: I am so freaking sick of any quirky, clever, adventurous travel article, destination or idea being angled toward men. What, just because I’m working on my middle-aged spread and have a baby on the hip means I don’t go to the bathroom outside of a hotel? Hoping the new women’s travel mag Galavanting will redress the imbalance …)
At the time, I’d just returned from two months in frozen Russia, and had spent much of the first two weeks frantically building up my thigh muscles as if preparing for a downhill slalom race. Why? I mean, Russia’s not what you think of as squat toilet territory. Because the toilets at Moscow State University had no seats, just narrow edges. And mid-morning, those edges got into a state where I daily wondered how on earth anyone got that up there.
I’m talking about the fine art of hovering. When traveling, you need to build an entire set of muscles that will allow you to both lower yourself, completely balanced, over a squat toilet or grate, and to hover over all sorts of raised toilet seats for as long as it takes to do your business. When you’re traveling with a kid in a sling, that goes double.
Here’s a few pointers that might help:
-Work on regular exercise squats for at least a couple weeks before you leave, about 20 slow, conscious squats 3 times a day. This will build up those helpful thigh muscles.
-Another thigh workout is stolen from ski training: Put your back flat against a wall, with your thighs out in front at 90 degrees, as if you’re sitting on a nonexistent chair. Try to hold the pose for 30 seconds while reducing how much you press your back into the wall. You want to work up to a point where you can hover using only leg and abdomen strength without touching the wall.
-Nothing will help you more than developing your core muscles, your upper and lower abdominals. These are key to keeping balance and keeping control over your muscles.
-Take up yoga and/or pilates, any form of exercise that works on developing your core muscle system. The focus here is not only strength. It’s about concentration. When you’re lowering yourself over a grate that’s already mucked up, you want to know that you know exactly which muscles you’re using and what they’re doing.
-If you have access to woods or wilderness, practice squatting over the ground. This helps you get the hang of keeping your ankles dry.
-If you’re traveling with a baby, practice doing squats at home with the wee one in your pouch or sling.
-In fact, practice going to the bathroom with the baby attached. Actually, you should do this anyway. Even when not traveling, if you take a newborn out shopping or to a restaurant, there aren’t a lot of options. This goes for men, too. As my husband says, “It’s surprisingly hard when you can’t see what you’re doing.”
-Wear a skirt. I can’t emphasize this enough. I almost always wear dresses and skirts when traveling and it’s a lot easier to keep your balance and hold your pose without pants hampering your ankles. Plus, it reduces splash damage.
-Either keep some tissues in your bra, or practice getting some out of a pocket or backpack while doing squat practices. Plenty of places, as I’m sure you know, don’t provide toilet paper or will be out of it, and you don’t want to be fumbling around for them while dripping and swaying and losing your balance.
-Expose yourself to atrocious odors until you stop gagging. When I was 14 and living in the Soviet Union, we visited a monastery outside of Moscow. When I and my sister needed the toilet, we didn’t need directions. You could smell it from half a mile away. But, raised as I was on the scents of pine trees and Rocky Mountain air, I couldn’t stick it. My parents wasted a lot of time and a few rubles getting us into a toilet at a nearby movie theater because we were too soft to handle the stench. I’m still working on that one.