Many Westerners who arrive in Borneo are horrified when faced with a loo without loo paper. They may remember advice from a fellow traveller, often given with a snigger, “Never shake hands with your left hand because that’s the hand that you use to wipe your arse with”. What exactly do they mean? How could you possibly wipe your arse with your hand? This blog aims to demystify the process and explain exactly how to ‘go local’ and leave both your arse and your left hand squeaky clean and smelling fresh. Before reading on, be warned that the details may make uncomfortable, if educating, reading.
I wasn’t Immediately sold on wiping my arse with my hand. It took a bit of brave experimentation to get to where I am now. The trouble you see, was that no one explained to me exactly how to do it. The process was always referred to with allusion and a knowing wink, if you know what I mean. New Arkitrekkers usually receive a cultural briefing on arrival in Sabah. If they’re lucky, or unlucky, depending on your point of view, they receive it from me. The difference between the briefings that I give and the briefings that I was given, lies in the detail.
Imagine you’re faced with a cubicle. The floor is wet but thankfully not to smelly. The door is plastic and the flimsy bolt is broken. You cast around for some way to secure your privacy and just before giving up to find another cubicle, you notice a rectangular toggle of wood that pivots on a nail to hold the door closed. Now feeling more secure you turn around to continue your pre-flight cockpit check. The pan is a squat pan and it’s raised on a tiled dias, reached by a high and potentially slippery step. Staring down into the pan you are relieved to see that there is nothing either floating on the water or reposing on the porcelain. There is something odd about the squat pan, though. It is very deep and inside is the shape of a Western toilet. The dias is about as high as the seat on a Western toilet. The penny drops. It is a Western toilet: encased in a tiled concrete dias up to the rim.
On the wall above the pan is a plastic cistern hanging jauntily to one side. The flush handle is broken but someone has drilled a hole in the lid through which pokes a length of what could have been a wire coat hanger bent into a loop. “Please Pam after Used” implores a white acrylic sign above the cistern. Everything is present, if not entirely correct, but for one last check. By now you are not expecting a white porcelain toilet roll holder topped with a frangipani blossom, but there might at least be a piece of wire, a dusty ledge or even a loop of string. Anything that might hold a roll of two-ply quilted luxury toilet tissue. Nothing. Then you notice beside the door is a dustbin full with water. A grimy length of hose dribbles a lacklustre stream of water continuously into the bin, a commensurate volume of water overflowing the rim and accounting for the wet floor. Floating proudly on top of the bin, listing like a holed ship that refuses to sink, is a pink plastic scoop.
You know what this scoop and the water in the bin are for. You don’t really know how that purpose is to be achieved but by now your condition is urgent. The extra chillies that you forced yourself to eat out of macho pride are eliciting ominous rumblings and you feel the imminent appearance of the head of a turtle. You are, so to speak, almost touching cloth. Quickly you drop your trousers to your knees and hitch up your hems to your calves to keep them off the wet floor. You squat uncomfortably and let rip.
It is well known in Asia that white men can’t squat. Our achilles tendons and hip flexors are too tight and instead of squatting comfortably flat footed, we are forced to teeter precariously on the balls of our feet, helped in our balance by a hand on the driest section of wall we can find.
The moment passes and your reach for the fearful scoop. Filling it with water you attempt to splash water up under your arsehole. Most of the water goes onto your trousers, which you had gone to such pains to keep dry. Several ineffectual splashes later you realise that you are going to have to go digging in the dirt with your left hand to reach the bits that the water doesn’t quite reach. Your hand comes away soiled. You rinse it in a scoop of water and go in again. Slowly and awkwardly you get yourself clean. Pulling up your pants you then scrub your hands vigourously in the scoop. A small bar of gritty soap is available perched on a dusty ledge for this purpose. Thank goodness for that. You dry your hands on the only remaining dry patch of trousers. Before creeping away you take a tentative sniff of your fingers. They stink of shit.
You have made a basic error. How were you to know? Nobody told you. No one told me either and the above story is true. The secret, my friend, is: Never go in with dry hands. Shit and the smell of shit sticks to dry hands like engine grease. Here’s how it’s done.
Take a scoop full of water in your right hand and first dip your left hand into it. This pre-emptive film of water will keep out the shit smell better than any number of retrospective scrubbings. Next: Rotate your arse as far back and upwards as it will go, imagine you’re practising your twerking moves, if you will. Then, perch the full scoop at the top of your bum crack. Now is your moment of glory. As you slowly tip a stream of water down your bum crack, reach around and under with your wet left hand and work out the tagnuts and side smears with your fingers. With practice you can get yourself perfectly clean with just one scoop of water, but take as many as you need initially. Allow the stream of water to take away the dirt and make sure you haven’t missed any bits in outer orbits. Give your sphincter a squeeze to expel any stubborn nuggets and rinse these off too.
You’ll know when you’re clean when you can feel the squeaky cleanness with your forefinger against your puckered marmite starfish. This is much, much cleaner than toilet paper will ever get you and your fingers will not smell either. Some people still like a bit of tissue to dry off with, but if you can deal with the wetness for a little while, it’ll soon dry off naturally. I urge you to try it. Go local. You might just like it.