I used to worry a lot about anything and everything. I’d like to think I’m much more relaxed these days, but this changed somewhat when someone (possibly Sister 1) put a few thoughts in my head about things I might encounter on my travels to the Philippines. Namely that 1) Didn’t they eat cat and dog there? And 2) Was the toilet situation a hole in the ground type of an affair?
At the time I laughed. Then it turned into a little niggle, so I decided to Google it. Now, Google certainly has all the answers, just not the ones you always want when you’re aiming to put your mind at rest.
Google informed me that 1) Eating cat and dog isn’t allowed, but is done and 2) Oh God. Well things were worse than a hole in the ground. The toilet situation was apparently this: They have toilets, but no seats. You don’t sit down, you stand on the bowl and squat. And they don’t have toilet paper – you use a small tub to pour water over your backside and use the other hand to apply soap. By this stage I was so panicked I shut down my computer and didn’t think to double check anything. I went and stared at my toilet and considered practising this contortionist trick, but decided there was a good chance I would topple over and into my shower screen, and knowing my luck, break my nose.
I would tell people I was vegetarian. At least that would solve issue 1. Issue 2 though, was a different matter. Over the next few days I consulted with a few ‘lucky’ friends on exactly how I could handle this. While demonstrating the balancing act to one friend (I wasn’t on the toilet at the time), I realised that apart from anything else, my thighs were not terribly happy about the position required. I’d have to start a squatting regime. This particular friend suggested that the easiest option would be a collapsible potty she’d had for her young boys. We just couldn’t work out how I would explain whipping that out my bag every time I needed the loo…
The obvious thing to do was to ask Jackie if Google had been correct. The problem is that I know a bit about Jackie’s family, I know a bit about Jackie, I know she is good at her job…but I didn’t know how she would take questions about her culture which could be interpreted as insulting. And really, there aren’t that many people you can question about the local stance taken when having a wee.
Jackie and I spoke on the phone yesterday. We talked about how things are progressing (slowly, but steadily), about her plans, about the people at Kusog Tacloban she works at, and then I took a deep breath…
Me: Jackie, how easily are you offended? (I clearly need coaching on asking difficult questions)
Jackie: Um…(Well, how do you answer that?!)
Me: You see the thing is, I’ve read that in the Philippines people eat cat and dog. Do they?
There was a short pause. I thought it might be the end of this particular project. Then there was a roar of laughter down the phone. Jackie explained that there are a lot of stray cats, but they aren’t eaten. Dogs however, are a speciality in the north of the Philippines. More panic, where the hell was Tacloban again? Happily, it turns out it’s not in the north. I don’t need to become a vegetarian after all.
But there was still the toilet conversation to be had. I asked and…. another roar of laughter. I have been assured that in 90% of the places I go to there will be a seat and I can use the toilet in what we consider to be the conventional way. My thighs cheered in relief. As did my sense of balance and my face, as I was sure I would have face planted from a toilet had Google been right. They don’t use toilet roll, but that’s ok – I can take my own. So that is the first thing on my list of packing essentials!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for learning from other cultures and doing things differently, but I think those two things would have been a bit too much for me. I’m just so pleased it turns out I can ask Jackie pretty much anything, because there are bound to be more things I think of. And I am not using Google again! :o)