Saturday, January 28, 2012

Unisex Toilets in Kabul

Unisex toilets in Kabul were not something I would have thought possible. The problem is that when they built the school where I work (I suppose they did not expect females to attend or, perhaps, the men designing it forgot that women have needs as well) they only put in the toilets for men. This means that we females have to share the toilet with them.While that doesn't bother me too much with the doors on the stalls and all in the U.S. or other places, I feel extremely timid here in Kabul. Entering the bathroom I most frequently use is like walking into a long hallway. You pass two sinks on your right hand side, a tiny separating wall that juts out to cover the two urinals and then the end of the hall where are two stalls. One contains a squatter (think Thailand, China, Malaysia, etc.) and the other a sitter (western sit down style toilet). Actually, if I am honest, the whole idea of walking past the urinals is traumatizing. Not because I'm nervous about sharing the bathroom if there are stalls (as previously stated), whatever, but, given the cultural context, I don't want to upset anyone by walking in on them.

One time, I knocked and knocked on the door with no response. I figured, empty. I opened the door and nearly ran into a man in the middle of absolution for prayer. I'm sure the almost contact set him back a bit and he had to redo everything because after I left the bathroom offering profuse apologies, it took him almost a half an hour to leave. I was practically doubled over in front of the bathroom contracted in pain when he left. Passed by me without a second glance.

Another time, I sent a young man in to check the bathroom for me. I watched him check the entire room and then report back "all clear". I thanked him as I entered the bathroom and locked the door behind me. I walked past the sinks, urinals and got into the squat toilet at the end of the corridor. I closed the door to the stall, started lowering my pants and suddenly heard a male voice saying,
"I'm here."
"AHHHH! Why didn't you answer when we asked if anyone was in here (in both Dari and English!)? Are you finished?" I pull up my pants ready to run out of the bathroom.
"Then get out, get out, get out." I heard him leave the stall, wash his hands, unlock the door and leave the bathroom. I take one or two seconds to contemplate whether or not to run out and re-lock the door but nature calls and I drop my pants. I figured I'll hear someone if they came in the bathroom and could wait quietly till they left again. Quiet as a mute mouse, the person would not have even known I was there--no harm done.  

I now knock, call out and then listen very closely. If I hear a cough, sneeze, the tinkling of a small water flow, or anything that would alert me to another person I step outside, close the door and wait.Good listening is an asset for all involved.

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