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Running water is really one of those things we take for granted. When I’m at home, I’ll get grumpy if I’m the last one to take a shower and don’t get any hot water, but it’s easy to forget just how amazing it is that I have water in my house. And I can drink it right from the tap (in most places). In Afghanistan, this is what plumbing usually looks like for the whole village:

Needless to say, bathing as we know it is not something the average rural Afghan can afford to waste water on. They wash their hands and feet regularly before praying and their hands before eating, but soap is not normally a part of this.

And toilets? Right out. Even in the few places like government offices that had indoor plumbing, toilets were the hole-in-the-ground, pop-a-squat type. It’s great for your quads, but I can’t imagine my grandfather with his two bad knees would handle that well, so I have no idea how their elderly manage.

But a hole in the ground is sometimes a step up.

I had been invited to attend a big women’s meeting in a nearby district. It was being held in one of the village bigwig’s courtyards, so we got to spend the day inside the compound, dodging chickens and trying not to lean on the cow pattie-covered walls. We all tried not to drink too much to avoid unnecessary bathroom breaks, but since it really was an all-day event, sooner or later, we all broke.

When my bladder finally got the best of me, I went to one of the soldiers who had I had seen wandering off before and asked where the bathroom was. She giggled a little ominously and said when she had asked, the owners had told her it was up in the main bedroom, in the back left corner.

The “master bedroom” was on the second floor, such as it was. I balanced my way up the less-than-stable stairs that had no railing and ducked into the room.

(The Master Bedroom doorway is on the top left. Can you spot the Stairs, the Cow Patties, and the Cow?)

The one window in the thick mud-brick wall was covered, so it was dark, but I could make out some decorations made of beads on the walls (including one of a bright yellow helicopter) and some worn-out mats and pillows on the floor that made up a bed. The only other thing in the room, in the noted corner, was a 2 foot x 2 foot x 2 inches flat stone sitting on the floor. Next to it was a bucket of water.

Now, there were no holes in the stone, no indent or slope for liquid to run off, no towels or toilet paper, definitely no sink with anti-bacterial soap. Just a rock with some water to rinse off with. It was, not surprisingly, a bit slick. Happily, I always travel with my own tissues and hand sanitizer, but it was interesting coming face to face with the toilet that all the women used that day, many without the benefit of the sanitizer. The fact that we were about to share a meal off a communal plate where everyone eats with their hands made for a rather unappetizing thought.

In the end, I was just happy I managed not to slip, and I returned downstairs and ate just enough of the meal to be polite. Deploying can make a great weight-loss program. Just be sure to thank the next plumber you see.