Before coming to Indonesia one of the things that I ofttimes thought about, and not in a particularly nervous or anxious way, was the squatty potty. The kamar kecil (small room). The porcelain hole in the ground.
In Indonesia, and in many parts of the world, the squatty potty is the main mode of… well… getting business done (read: pooping/peeing business). The squatty potty is a foreign concept to Americans, and people that subscribe to the Western school of thought regarding bathroom fixtures, but it’s a rather intuitive system. Certainly not one to be afraid of or trepidatious about.
Squatting is really not a big adjustment to make. It’s probably how our ancestors got their business done a couple millennia ago. The more difficult aspect of the squatty potty for Westerners to wrap their heads around is the lack of toilet paper. At least, no toilet paper was what most befuddled my poor singularly focused Americanized mind.
In lieu of beloved toilet paper there is water. Water, a bucket, and of course: soap. The bucket is small and with a handle. It is called “gayung” in Indonesian. Once one’s business is finished, assuming one’s business is more solid in nature, you will take the gayung with your right hand, scoop some water from the basin to your side and, whilst pouring the water as necessary, utilize your left hand to… clean up (ideally with some soap). That’s right! The left hand. The southern paw. The hand that most of us don’t care about anyway is what you’ll have in place of toilet paper if you come to Indonesia.
At first, this ablutionary act can seem harrowing and even incompatible with one’s own standards for sanitary practices. To surmount the notion of the squatty potty and a toilet paper free bathroom experience as unsanitary, imagine a scenario with me. You are walking barefoot around your yard. It’s a beautiful spring morning. The air is crisp and clear, the dawn sun’s warmth is juxtaposed impeccably with waning chill of nighttime. The still dew-rich grass smells like whatever grass with dew is supposed to smell like (I ran out of patience for crafting good sentences). Suddenly, you feel something that is not dewy grass beneath your foot. And not only do you feel this sudden sensation, you smell it. It’s poop! Whether it be dog poop, cat poop, or even human poop (maybe a serial pooper is on the loose in your neighborhood?) is up for you to decide. Now that you have an undesirable substance on your foot, what do you do? Grab a tissue, wipe it off, call it good? Probably not. If it were me: I would probably wash my foot with soap and water.
I don’t think it is necessary to explicitly connect all the dots, but it’s not hard to guess which bathroom system is the one that uses only a tissue to clean the poopy foot.
The left hand being reserved for such ignoble duties is why the use of it in many interactions in Indonesia is viewed as unclean. It is bad form to give something to someone using the left hand. Shaking hands should always be done with the right. Any handling of food should be performed exclusively by the right hand. Even using the left hand for gesturing is seen as uncouth.
Hopefully this short explanation was able to dispel some misconceptions or at least clarify areas they had previously been vague. As for me, I have come to love the squatty potty. It’s clean, efficient, and easy. I was hesitant initially, but now I’m all in. And perhaps this is just a honeymoon phase and I’ll return to believing in the superiority of porcelain thrones. But for right now I’m on team squatty potty.
fyi: phrasing all of this politely was an enormous struggle, especially considering how all PCVs are super open about our bathroom habits. Eventually I will write about diarrhea and that post will not be as whitewashed.