On the road…again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
An Indelicate Subject
Sometimes it takes the stimulus of an ignorant post or meme on the Internet to finally push the Footloose Forester over the edge. As repugnant and as repulsive as the subject matter is, he thinks that it is high time to discuss the issue of toilet paper—in a totally serious way.
To begin with, the social network link that featured a cartoon Minion posing a silly question about the seemingly obvious need to buy toilet paper misses the point that not all cultures in the world buy toilet paper. Furthermore, not all people in the world depend upon toilet paper to accomplish their daily, personal hygiene. In fact, some outspoken critics of the personal hygiene practices common in Western countries could make a strong case to the contrary. The unnamed Minion shown below may be cute and have his admirers, but he is careless by not using a question mark where it is called for and he is also way off base in thinking that everybody buys toilet paper. Millions don’t buy it and millions don’t use it.
This topic is a serious one when you find yourself in the midst of a cultural milieu where the everyday conveniences of home are simply not available. If your country hosts are not going to cater to your every need, you simply have to make do. As a Westerner traveling through The Third World, it behooves you to be prepared to meet many inconveniences. None is more personal and perhaps more distressing than discovering that your modest hotel, guest house, campsite, or private home has no toilet paper. A few not too serious remedies can be found on the Internet; indeed, there is a handful posted in response to the ignorant Minion that prompted this unsavory chronicle.
On the brighter side, there are opportunities for Westerners to purchase their vital travel needs before reaching their culturally remote destinations. Be aware, however, that not all brands of toilet paper are manufactured the same; and not all are equally effective in meeting the expectations of the user. For example, at one time in the past, there was a brand of British toilet paper that possessed a distinctively waxy surface. If you were not forewarned about it, you ran the risk of having a stiff, crinkly experience that could make you wince. It so happened that the Footloose Forester had to use the “facilities” during an overnight stopover in England, as did a couple of the other Peace Corps Volunteers on our way to Pakistan. He advised them not to use the British toilet paper, for reasons a priori about its waxy characteristics. He himself waited until they landed in Frankfurt, Germany and used the much better German TP. He already knew about both kinds, thanks to his experiences in the US Army in Europe. But his Peace Corps friends learned the painful way at Heathrow International Airport in England.
In the United States, as well, not all toilet paper comes with satisfaction guaranteed. Cheap toilet paper tears easily and literally disintegrates when it is wet. It matters greatly when one is suffering from diarrhea. When advertisers mention that their product has “wet strength” the message should be heeded. Wet one or more sections of tissue to see if the paper stays intact; and to see if your brand holds up. Unfortunately, even the major manufacturers have not yet broached the indelicate subject of ways to be sure that you are really clean. These days, however; they have products on the market to do the job properly.