In recognition of World Toilet Day, I’d like to dedicate this post to our little white ceramic friends.
DEVELOPING WORLD PROBLEMS
In 1990, my grandfather orchestrated a family reunion in the quaint little village of Villa Fundación, the Dominican Republic, where my father was born. We spent a weekend there, in the countryside, one hundred miles west of Santo Domingo, where dust from the unpaved roads got into every nook and cranny, including your ass crack.
One afternoon, we all gathered around an insanely long farm table that was covered in overlapping gingham cloths. We passed bread and wine down the table cantankerously, like we were some kind of Italian crime family relocated from Naples.
We feasted on the #1 delicacy of Villa Fundación: goat stew with white rice and pinto beans. I ate like an orphan who had been left out in the woods for days. Shortly after dessert, my stomach began to rumble like the congas in Gloria Estefan’s, “Rhythm is Gonna Get You.” (Except that diarrhea was gonna get me!) I dabbed my mouth with a tablecloth like the girls in charm school were taught to do and excused myself from the table.
I speed-walked to the bathroom. But where the fuck was the bathroom?! I was in some newfound, long-lost relative’s house. Minutes later, my aunt found me in the hallway, doubled-over, and sweating bullets. I was clenching my stomach as if an alien was about to rip through my guts any second. She grabbed me by the hand and led me across the backyard, passed a cluster of mango and banana trees.
At the edge of the farm was a dilapidated shack made of ancient wood and a tin roof. She flung the door of the shack open to reveal a swarm of flies hovering above a hole in the ground. The place smelled of sewer and dead carcass.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“The bathroom,” she said.
“Um. Where’s the toilet?”
She pointed to the hole in the ground and said, “You’re looking at it!” Then she nudged me gently inside. Before closing the door behind her, she asked that I be a good boy and wipe away any “drips” that might fall on the cement floor around the hole.
Whenever I close my eyes to invoke fond memories of my childhood in the countryside, I can’t. Because there aren’t any. (Thanks a lot, latrine!)
INTRO TO HARDSHIP – 101
I’m the product of a developing world country.
Back in the day, when the Dominican government cut off the electricity in our “sector,” I did homework under the amber glow of a kerosene lamp. I slept with a mosquito net that hung from the ceiling and fortified my bed each night. I was forced to poop in latrines when toilets were scarce. And when my siblings and I were “wasting” too much toilet paper, our parents removed them temporarily so that we’d hose our assholes down on the bidet.
Do you know how many people don’t know what a bidet is? (Like, a lot. And if you’re one of them, please see below!)
I used to believe that my hard-knock life prepared me for the challenges I faced while traveling abroad. This was why, as a grown-ass man, I didn’t freak out when a jellyfish stung me at a beach in Mozambique. Rather than succumb to the throbbing pain, I took a shot of tequila and allowed some guy named Stan to pee on my shoulder.
This was also why, as a professional, I did not let food poisoning ruin a business trip to Mumbai. I had ordered “Indian Style Breakfast” one morning from room service at the JW Marriot in Juhu: a plate of lime-colored eggs covered in a million spices. Did I allow thirteen consecutive vomiting cycles in a span of ten minutes to get in the way of securing investment funds for a feature film back home? Hell no! That day, I shot across the bustling city of Mumbai in a rickshaw to run important errands, cutting through traffic like an arcade pinball, swallowing down the chunks each time they rose in my throat.
As far as I knew, “certified badass” was written in my stars. My upbringing had prepared me to withstand hardships most people crumbled before. I had taken the world by the reins and made it my bitch. And I had done all of this without losing my shit.
Run out of gas on the freeway? No sweat!
Missing the right mixers for a Moscow mule? Ain’t no thang!
I was resilient. I was ingenious. I figured shit out.
When I told the latrine story to friends over dinner, my ever-so-supportive husband chimed in. “Didn’t you grow up with a maid?” he asked.
(Cue record scratch.)
Damn you, Hubbie! You’ve derailed me yet again. You’ve stripped me of all cred to educate others on the true meaning of hardship, I thought as I fixed him with a sinister look, my eyes bulging from their sockets.
Hubbie possessed the subtle gift of putting me in my place time and again. Oddly enough, this was why I married him.
And there you have it. My so-called hardships were merely a collection of First World problems that I had misinterpreted to be of the Third World kind.
I shat on latrines. So what?
Some people have to literally bury their shit.
OTHER DEVELOPING WORLD PROBLEMS
Statistics show that three-quarters of a billion people still didn’t have access to a fully functioning toilet. They’re forced to defecate outdoors, which is a nice way of saying that these unlucky folks “pop squats” outside daily.
I picture the young lad in Niger turning five. He receives a trowel from his parents as a birthday gift. “Here you go, young lad,” said his parents. “From now on, you can bury your own shit!”
It isn’t only a lack of proper septic systems that plague developing world countries. There are formidable challenges across the board, from rampant pollution to the absence of roads. Studies show that government investment in infrastructure helps reduce poverty by connecting communities, thereby expanding access to resources that would otherwise remain unreachable.
They say that money makes the world go round, except when it’s grossly mismanaged. Corruption in developing world countries has become, sadly, a widely expected trend. My beloved island-nation of DR included.
FUCK MY PROBLEMS
During my two-year stint as a property manager, it made me Indian-style-breakfast sick to my stomach when residents urged me to mitigate what they considered to be “of the essence” problems.
During COVID, for instance, one resident requested that we extend the fitness room’s closing hours from 12 PM to 1 PM because he slept in until noon every day. Our afternoon sanitizing schedule interfered with his beauty sleep. Mind you, this was not a person who moonlighted as an EMT or some other commendable profession. He had all of the time in the world to partake in a normal sleep cycle. But, no. He preferred to lead a life of douchebaggery.
Same deal at the grocery store. I scoffed as the person in front of me needed a plastic bag for each one of their protein products. One for fish. One for chicken. One for meat. Etcetera.
But to each their own, right?
I think not!
I gave myself an invisible gold star for doing my part. I packed my groceries in tote bags that I kept in the trunk of my car. I broke down cardboard boxes from Amazon and recycled them. I even went so far as to dispose of single-use batteries at my local Household Hazardous Waste disposal facility.
I was contributing to a better world.
I mean, I was pretty sure I was contributing to a better world?
I questioned myself while in the shower recently, gallons of water blasting from the showerhead above. What are you doing, you idiot?! I scolded myself for being a wasteful piece of shit. I turned off the water and lathered my naked body. I can do this, I can do this, I kept repeating like a mantra, my body shivering in the cold. Maybe I’ll let the water run just this once, I thought while turning the hot water knob. I’ll make up for it later. Maybe I won’t leave the lights on when I exit a room. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.
I hopped out of the shower and dried myself quickly. I was still cold, so I set the thermostat to 74-degrees and switched off every light bulb in the house. Then I started the third load of laundry in the washer/dryer unit and set a three-hour wash cycle for the half-dirty plates in the dishwasher.
I googled: how many lightbulbs = 74° HVAC + Laundry3+ 3-hr Dishwasher cycle?
Google replied: YOU SUCK!
I was ashamed of myself for splurging on these modern conveniences. I wanted to shit in a latrine to gain some kind of fucked up sense of redemption, but there were no latrines to be found these days. Worst of all, my bathroom kept welcoming me with the calming scent of lavender.
FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS AND HOW TO SOLVE THEM
In this day and age, a runny nose is considered to be one of the biggest first world problems of all time. Yes. A runny nose. But what about clean running water? This list of countries could sure use some of that.
It seems as though privilege undermines the stark reality that there are people in this world who don’t have access to basic human necessities. My privilege, to be exact, and those of others who are lucky enough to live in countries with basic infrastructure, like roads and shit.
It took one experience in a latrine for me to idolize even the ugliest of toilets. And let me tell you, dear reader, I’ve seen a lot of fugly toilets.
So what can we do to help? How can we absolve ourselves of guilt — should we so happen to feel any — when we let the water run as we brush our teeth and take needlessly long showers?
The answer is to do as much as we can while striving to do more.
I use tote bags instead of plastic bags whenever I can. So what? Says a make-believe Greta Thunberg who plays the devil on my shoulder. I fucking sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to make a goddamn point.
What can I say? The Greta Thunbergs of the world are better than me. But I do what I can. (And you should, too.)
So let’s keep the conversation going about climate change, recycling, conservation, and all relevant matters of the life-threatening variety. More importantly, let’s discuss this with the eager young minds who will one day be calling the shots in this big blue world.
A LESSON ON FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS
My friend Norah has a two-year-old daughter named Emma. Like many other two-year-olds, Emma is quite picky about her dinner options. No, she would not like to eat chicken with mashed potatoes and peas, thank you very much. She’d prefer a bowl of mac and cheese topped with animal crackers and drowned in BBQ sauce. Norah gives her daughter grief before acquiescing to these wild concoctions of mismatched foods. Five minutes later, Emma pushes her bowl away after three bites and says, “All done!”
Norah reminds Emma that there are starving children in the world who aren’t as lucky as she is, but little Emma is now halfway to the couch and asks Alexa to play “Watermelon Sugar” by Harry Styles.
I follow Emma to the couch and, without asking Norah’s permission, show her pictures of emaciated children on my cell phone. I tell Emma to take a good look — to burn the images into her little mind — because that’s what’s going to happen to her if she doesn’t eat her chicken and peas.
And then Norah reminds me that this is precisely why I am not allowed to babysit.
Not you, above-pictured baby.
The grown-ass adult whose life just “shattered” because you’ve run out of toilet paper and now you’re sitting on the john with a dirty asshole, praying to God to get you out of this one.
Allow me to enlighten you: your hardships are nothing compared to the young lad from Niger. At least he knows how to take care of a dirty ass.
But allow me to also get you out this one, from one derelict to another.
HOW TO MAKE THE WORLD YOUR BITCH
Here’s a personal, real-world example of how to solve a basic first world problem:
After taking a massive dump at a public restroom in Central Park, I discovered, to my dismay, that there was no toilet paper in the stall.
Instead of panicking, I closed my eyes and thought about that time in the countryside.
Goat stew with white rice and pinto beans. The rumble of congas in my stomach. The dilapidated shack in the yard. The foul odors inside of said shack that burned the white of my eyes. My aversion to the mass gathering of flies.
I rolled up my sleeves and took a deep breath.
Run out of toilet paper? No sweat!
I am resilient. I am ingenious. I will figure this shit out.
I removed my underwear and wiped my ass with it like it ain’t no thang. I bid adieu to my Fruit of the Looms and walked away commando-style.
I won’t ever let the absence of toilet paper ruin my day.
And neither should you.
ONE LAST THOUGHT
As I mentioned, the best way to make a positive impact in all this is to simply do your best.
But if you would like to do more, you can check out these seven steps.
Finally, I welcome you to remember today, and each year on November 19th, that the world is not only your oyster.
It’s also one great big toilet.