You have a better alternative to toilet paper, and it’s right there at your fingertips!

Most of us were raised to believe that it’s improper to talk openly about our bodily functions — especially the ones we employ in the bathroom. This sensibility has given rise to the huge number of euphemisms that refer to our bodily waste.

I can pinpoint the time that this perspective got turned on its head for me. It was the summer of 2003, and I was training with 55 other people to be Peace Corps Volunteers in Mauritania, West Africa.

Our first shock came to us shortly after we arrived in Nouakchott, the capital. One of the first bits of information that needed to be imparted to us had to do with the inevitability that we were soon going to have to go to the bathroom, and that we needed to be able to know how to face the plumbing — or, more aptly, the lack thereof.

Thus we were introduced to a small plastic object that looked like a teapot and was called a . , being an exotic new word for us, came to be referred to in English as “the butt pot.” Sharif, the Volunteer who showed us how to use it, became known as “the guy who did the butt pot demonstration.”

This is the makaresh I used for many years at home, before I installed a bidet attachment to my toilet.

Sharif demonstrated as he squatted in front of us, clothed and with an empty , that we were to use the right hand to tilt the water out, just above the anal opening, and then use the left hand to help brush away any remaining, hmmm, let’s just say .

We would, of course, wash our hands with soap and water immediately afterward. We came to understand that because of this activity, the left hand is generally considered to be . Therefore, we were never to touch somebody with the left hand or to use it while eating in the presence of Mauritanians.

At 56, I was the oldest trainee in the group, and I had already traveled in Africa and Asia, where I had seen many variations on this theme. While I had habituated to this method during my travels, I had not yet adapted it to daily personal use at home in the USA.

I have since come to learn that approximately 70% of the world’s population uses water for cleaning themselves after they have used the toilet. That’s a tremendous number of people who are using toilet paper!

This is one of several varieties of toilet attachments that I saw while traveling in Indonesia. Turning the knob on the side begins the flow of water to the area strategically placed above it.
These are a common sight in Tunisia. Turn the water on with the knob on the left. The opposite end can be taken off its hook for you to use, and then returned to the hook afterwards.

It didn’t take more than 48 hours - once we had been ingesting, digesting, and eliminating local food - before our once-private and not-to-be-talked-about bodily functions became not only an obsession among us, but one of the most common topics of conversation. We had known each other for less than a week by the time we began discussing what had previously been reserved for close family, friends, or medical professionals.

This topic became liberally infused into the biweekly event that was referred to as a Town Hall Meeting, with everyone assembled for an evening of songs, jokes, and skits. It was at one of these gatherings where fellow trainee Karl shouted out the question, “Who controls the doo-doo?” to which he encouraged us to shout in unison the response, “You do! You do!”

Over the course of my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer, living with this daily reality during two years made it commonplace and without the negative charge that it continues to have for many people in our country.

A few months prior to our completing service, we attended a retreat called the Close of Service conference. One of the features of the weekend was conferring lighthearted awards to each other, which was reminiscent of the distinctions we commonly see in high school yearbooks, but with specific twists in reference to our Peace Corps service.

Rather than voting on such standbys as most likely to succeed, then, our awards included: most likely to become an APCD (Associate Peace Corps Director), most likely to become a politician, most likely to have four wives, most likely to be a PCV for five years, most likely to bring up their Peace Corps experience in a bar as an effort to hook up with someone, most likely to leave Mauritanians with the most bizarre memories, and, of course, most likely to continue to use a in the States.

Though I was not named the most likely to continue to use a in the States, I can tell you that I am one of the several returned volunteers who now has one of these devices installed on my toilet.

It’s very easy to find bidet attachments like this online and in stores.

All of which now brings us to one of the most talked-about byproducts of the novel coronavirus pandemic: the widespread shortage and hoarding of toilet paper.

There are lots of other items I thought about when it came to stocking up: mostly food and drink that I would not want to be caught without, such as oatmeal, nutritional yeast, tahini, coffee, and wine.

But toilet paper? I buy it mostly for visitors; I use an incredibly small amount of it for myself. After squirting myself with the water from my bidet attachment, all I need to take are two squares from the roll, fold one on top of the other, and pat myself dry. Done!

Water has become my number one way of cleaning up after number two.

Quite some time ago, I realized that using toilet paper back there was simply not as effective as water. It’s more like applying furniture polish, in that all you are doing is moving that stuff around, rather than getting it off of your skin.

As a counter to those readers who think it’s too gross to be using one of your hands to help clean that area, let me ask you to consider this:

If you were in the process of changing a diaper, cleaning up after a pet, or somehow otherwise got some poop on your hand, what method would you use to clean your hands? Would you take a piece of toilet paper, wipe the surface, and then consider the job done?

I am willing to bet that no, you would not deem your hands to be sufficiently clean after just wiping them off with a piece of toilet paper!

How about, then, using the same logic when it comes to cleaning your bottom after you poop? Don’t just wipe the area with toilet paper, thus spreading it around. Use water to get rid of it altogether!

And then, of course, you are going to complete the job by washing your hands with soap and water. Right?

Retired teacher (San Francisco, 1969–2003); Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Mauritania, 2003–2005); public speaker, artist, writer, world citizen & traveler

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