Upon my arrival at the Quito airport for my first scouting tour of Ecuador, my first cultural surprise was awaiting me in the bathroom.
You see, in my mind, the toilet is the place where one places all things related to, well, poop. Yes, poop, poop accessories and other associated items. It is my firm belief that that the good lord intended it that way.
Not so in Ecuador. In Ecuador, people place toilet paper in the trash can, on the floor, and in some instances in various decorative poses that can dry to form a kind of Origami.
Once inside the airport bathroom stall, after my mind had wrapped around the situation at hand, my attention turned to the actual toilet. Most public toilets here have no seat cover. When faced with this new reality, one has, as we say in the South, a come to Jesus moment. You’re seeing something that just does not register and forces you to recalculate everything you thought you knew about life, the universe, and BTD’s (Butt Transmittable Diseases). Are the seat covers really needed you may ask yourself? This and other deep subjects I leave to various CDC personnel and you, the reader, can decide.
As with so many things here, you have to wonder, is it that people just don’t know how the rest of the world does things? I mean sure, somewhere in China or India, some poor farmer is squatting to crap in a hole, and yes I am aware it’s great for hemorrhoids — but I was in a multi-million dollar international airport.
After taking the plunge into a new and dangerous — at least to my way of thinking — method of using the toilet, a second realization hit me. The toilet paper is outside the stall. I started to wonder if there is some unknown branch of physics or math that allows Ecuadorians to calculate the amount of paper needed before the actual deed is done? It shall remain a mystery to me, I’m afraid. Anyone who knows the secret formula, please send me an IM, um, well private IM. Thanks.
Here, to date, is my understanding of why people don’t throw paper in the toilet. The reason is because the sewer pipes are too small. Now, we’re talking about even some new houses, so none of this “it’s from an old way of doing things” argument I bet some of you want to make holds up to reality.
How is it that a person like my old landlord, who owns two flat-screen TV’s that cost 30% more here than in the States and who is driving a brand new pickup truck — again, much more expensive than in the States — can’t or won’t install modern plumbing? Maybe Ecuadorians believe in a toilet paper fairy? I keep looking under the toilet waste bins in bus stations and in my friend’s houses, but have yet to find a quarter. When I do. I will be sure to let you know.
My next culture shock came when It was time to go to bed. Unlike many people who may have opted to stay at hotels, I opted to stay with Ecuadorian friends. Let me tell you how poor, and even some middle class Ecuadorians sleep. Two words. No pillows. Again, they have a car, a nice house, a TV, a laptop, but no pillows. Not one. Not for themselves, not for guests. I have found this to be true again and again when sleeping over at a friends’ houses here.
I have friends all over Ecuador and I swear by all that is fluffy, not one I have stayed with has a pillow. Why? I have no idea. As a substitute, I have generally been offered an old shirt, but mostly towels. What on earth happened in Ecuador that allowed the Facebook / Youtube / Twitter / Computing revolution to take hold, yet bypassed the pillow? I’ll never know. It’s like buying a $2,000 mountain bike and using a piece of plywood for the seat. Maybe there is some apocryphal catholic bible that has banned the use of the pillow? “And thou shalt not dweleth for a period of longer than one hour on fluffy, unleavened products of softness:” Plutoronomy 1:12. Maybe it’s a sin? I have like eight pillows on the bed in my house, just in any case. When my friends visit I show them the pillow and describe its use and function — they often seem puzzled.
If you decide to take the plunge and fully immerse yourself in Ecuadorian culture, you will experience many wonderful things, including, but not limited to, cold showers in freezing weather, toilets located in the center of the house only surrounded by a plastic enclosure, neighbors who listen to loud music every night till 2 a.m., people who lie to you to be nice, drunks urinating on your door step (there’s one, right now, doing it on mine as I type this), dog crap on the sidewalk (dog poo seems to be the national flower), and a myriad other niceties.
All in all, integrating into and adjusting to the new culture, is well worth the price of making new friends. Just make sure to keep your sense of humor.