Toilet Hygiene in Bangladesh


A little bit of knowledge can be dangerous.

It is true that throughout Asia--most people in the world, actually--use squat toilets rather than sitting toilets. Westerners quickly acclimate to them and appreciate not having their cheeks pressed against a seat that thousands of other people’s cheeks have warmed before them.

Then there is the revolting urban legend about South Asian toilet habits. Like all good lies, this one has an element of selective truth. Here’s how it goes: “People over there eat with their right hand because they don’t use toilet paper, cleaning themselves instead with their left hand.” Yuck.

Here’s the real story. Instead of toilet paper, there is a source of water and a water container with a spout. After you have finished a bowel movement, you pick up the water container with your right hand and pour water out of it. You use your left hand to guide the water to your butt and do what everybody should do in the shower anyhow, only before it has become difficult to remove. If you wash your hands after—as everyone should in any case—it is a formula for hygiene that is not equal to the Western practice of using toilet paper, but superior.

Do you think their way is gross? Try this for revolting: You can’t possibly clean yourself with dry toilet paper. That’s why everybody in America who does laundry tries not to see the brown spot on underwear. That’s why our swimming pools have enough chlorine to pickle our eyes. A few minutes in a pool will clean your butt just fine, only what washed off floats around in the pool until the filters get it. I won’t even talk about bathtubs.

We often wonder why (poor) countries don't adopt our ways of doing things. But here it's quite obvious that the question isn’t why haven’t they adopted our superior system of hygiene, but rather, why haven’t we adopted theirs?

P.S. There is a middle way. If the toilet is right next to a sink, you can wet the TP a little and do a much better job. This is confirmed by Dr. Tahera Islam from Bangladesh, but living in Saudi Arabia. "About the toilet, it is actually part of Muslim culture which is practiced in all other Muslim countries of the world including Pakistan and Middle East. Even in sitting toilets we have water source sometimes like shower or the same as you saw. My relatives who go to western countries soak toilet papers in the sink then enter the toilet. "

P.P.S. Europe, too. Wikipedia bidet and more.

Finally, if you are planning a journey to South Asia here are funny-- but detailed and helpful--instructions for using a bodna by a Canadian MCC worker who preceded me to Bangladesh and left before I got there. Russ Toevs was a legend. This is the MS Word file. If you can't open it, try this text file.

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