Please accept my sincerest apologies, because I have been holding out on you. It occurred to me recently that I have yet to share with you the mildly terrifying adventure that is Indonesian bathrooms.
I should have known some bathroom challenge was looming in my future long before I set foot in this country. Mom and I pored over the pages of my Fulbright information packets in the weeks before I left. Once, I remember her holding up a sheet, saying, “It says here that you’re guaranteed a ‘western toilet’ in your house. Does that imply something about other toilets?”
I think I shrugged. Back then, of course, I was more concerned with fitting nine months’ worth of scrunchy hair gel and spare contacts into my suitcase.
During orientation, they told us a few words that will haunt me throughout my time here: “You have to get used to the idea that here, wet is clean.”
Wet is clean. Wet is clean. Sure, ok. I can get behind that one. I mean, isn’t wet clean?
What they mean is that Indonesians wash themselves at least five times a day, always before they pray. But soap is hardly ever required. They splash some water on their bodies and go on their merry way, feeling clean.
Public restrooms here are covered in a layer of water. If there is a western toilet, it’s always soaked. Which brings me to how they… clean up after going to the bathroom.
The first time I saw an Indonesian toilet, I just stared at it. It’s a glorified hole in the ground. I mean, really. A porcelain hole in the ground. It looks like an angry giant saw a normal toilet and stomped it into the ground with both feet at once.
I’ve found that the best way to use it is to sort of mold my body into a tripod where I lean back against one arm on the wet wall in a sort of valley-girl squat position. In one humiliating episode of my life, I peed right down the side of my pant leg. That was a low point, and I don’t want to talk about it anymore.
To flush, here’s what you’re working with:
It’s a bucket and a tub of water. They wipe themselves with their left hand and then use the bucket, or sometimes a hose, to clean off their hands and flush the squat toilets. You even flush most western toilets with the bucket and tub of water method. They do not use toilet paper at all. I always carry a pack of tissues in my purse. This is why using your left hand is totally off-limits here. They won’t even accept money if you try to pass it to them with your left hand.
(You’re also not allowed to point at things with your feet. I can’t think of an instance where I have really ever been moved to do that, though. Maybe shoe shopping? Certainly not in my daily life.)
They bathe in much the same way—by pouring a bucket of water over their head repeatedly. Luckily, I have a showerhead in my house. It’s what’s called a “wet shower,” where the hose is suspended, but the water just sprays out onto the floor.
Aside from the chilly temperature, it’s really not bad at all. Sometimes I try to pretend it’s ultra-modern: Tubs are so old-fashioned, I say to myself.