A few days after arriving in the Philippines, I woke to get ready for church. I was feeling a bit uncomfortable in my stomach like I had to do a poop, but I thought I would be okay because I was still a bit constipated from the 22-hour flight a few days before.
I got dressed and we boarded the bus to our congregation some 30 Km away. Funny story: the bus drivers don’t wait for you to be seated before speeding off down the road. I was a 360-pound, off-balance hand grenade bouncing down the aisle and taking several passengers with me. The look of terror on one of the faces of the locals I grabbed on my way down I will never forget. It must have been frightening to have a white man that huge barreling towards you down the aisle of the bus.
After getting up and wiping myself off and salvaging whatever was left of my dignity, I sat next to my giggling fiancee who I noticed made it to her seat with no trouble. After my face turned to a normal color, I noticed all the jostling around had dislodged something in my colon, and the need to find a bathroom increased. But we are on a hot, sticky bus headed for a town far away and there was nothing I could do.
I loosened my tie and belt and sweated profusely for the next 25 Km of stop-and-go traffic.
After arriving at our congregation, I thought it would be a good time to take care of my needs, but as I entered the hall and headed for the back, I didn’t see a bathroom door anywhere. I stopped one of the brothers walking by and asked for the restroom, and he looked at me with a puzzled look on his face.
After trying every bit of charades I learned over the years, he finally realized what I was talking about when I squatted down and made a pushing face. By this time I had drawn a crowd and when everyone realized what I wanted, they all laughed.
“Oh, the CR!” In the Philippines, CR stands for comfort room, and it's the only sure term to use if you ever need to relieve yourself. Everyone pointed to a door behind them with “CR” in big letters.
When I opened the door, I was greeted by a small room with a single light bulb, sink, toilet, and a bucket with a scoop. A few things I noticed right away:
- There was no ventilation. If I did my business, the smell would waft under the door and out into the main hall with 100+ of my new brothers and sisters, most of who I never met before. What a way to introduce myself!
- There was no toilet paper. Not only was there no paper, but there also wasn’t even an empty roll attached to the wall.
- It was not soundproof. Not only was the smell going to affect my Filipino brothers and sisters, but I was about to regale them with sounds of nature no one ever wants to hear.
I ended up aborting, which wasn’t an easy thing, because you know how much your sphincter relaxes when you enter a bathroom, and I was almost to the point of no return.
I washed my hands and exited, noticing knowing looks all around. I blushed and tried to find my fiancee.
I sat through the next two hours of boring bible talks with horrible cramps and sweat pouring out of me. People were starting to worry. It was not just that there was no air conditioning, but the need to expel was getting hard to hide.
I couldn’t tell the beautiful little person next to me, because I had only met her in person for the first time a few days before, and I didn’t want to ruin her impression of me with complaints of poop cramps and flatulence.
I found out after the meeting was over that we were to go over to the house of one of the higher-ranking elders in the congregation and I was hoping desperately they had an out-of-the-way bathroom that was noise-proof, ventilated, and had copious amounts of blessed toilet paper.
When we arrived at the house, I was pleasantly surprised at how big it was. My chances of finding a bathroom in an unused wing of the house increased dramatically.
I entered the house after taking my shoes off but left my dress socks on. I didn’t know if it was proper to show my gnarled feet in polite company.
After everyone was settled I asked my fiancee to inquire about a CR, and the host's wife, who was cooking a huge meal, pointed to a door right next to the kitchen.
By then, I didn’t care, I didn’t have the time to explain I needed a better place to poop, so I just closed the door behind me and turned on the light.
The first thing I noticed was that my feet were soaking wet. There were slippers (flip-flops) by the door, but they were so small I may have gotten half my toes in them. I peeled off my soaking socks and looked around.
It was a modern bathroom with a ventilation fan spinning above, and the walls and door were thick enough to repel even the loudest of sharts. But as nice as the fancy towels on the back of the toilet were, there was still no toilet paper.
But by this time I had no choice but to drop my pants and squat.
I hoped I could figure out the wiping part after I did my business.
It took a good 15 minutes to finish and was one of the most painful experiences of my life because I had clenched the muscles of my bowels for so long that they had started to cramp. But finish I did and sprayed a little coconut air freshener that my host has so graciously supplied in a basket on the counter.
Now for the hard part, because there was no toilet paper anywhere. I looked through cupboards, but nothing jumped out. All I saw was a bucket and water scoop, but I had no idea what that was for.
Then I saw it. It was a little stainless steel sprayer with a white plastic handle, and when I squeezed it, water came out. Then I knew the water on the floor must be from people using this sprayer to clean themselves (it was actually from the bucket and Tabo).
I managed to angle the thing right and spray my butthole, but the water went everywhere, including down the leg of my pants. But, I cleaned myself and called it a victory. I hoped I didn’t miss anything but was too squeamish to use my own hand to check.
After I zipped up I noticed how wet I was both inside and outside my pants, but at this point, there was nothing I could do about it.
I washed my hands with soap that smelled almost the same as the air freshener and surveyed myself in the mirror. I was no worse for wear except for the water stain down the left leg of my pants.
When I exited the CR, I looked over at Flora, my fiancee, and she looked away, laughing and hiding her giggles. My host, sensing my discomfort, had to ask “if I fell in” and I have never been more embarrassed in my life.
After that experience, I decided I would find out all I could about how to poop in the Philippines.
How to Poop in Panay
After swallowing my embarrassment, and telling my betrothed what happened, we laughed and she filled me in.
Not many people use toilet paper in the Philippines. Not only is it expensive, but the septic tanks aren’t made to handle it.
The secret to getting your butt clean is to use the bucket and the scoop, or Tabo. The Tabo is used for everything from cleaning your butt, taking a bucket bath, to doing the laundry. It is a versatile tool that is used in all parts of the house, so when you use it to clean yourself, try not to contaminate it.
She told me her technique for using the combination, but I developed one that is much better for big people like me, or anyone unused to splashing water on their butt.
Now remember, bathrooms in the Philippines have drains in the floor, so don’t worry if you spill water. Just don’t wear socks, and if they fit, wear the slippers by the door.
When you have done your business, try to arrange your clothing so you won’t splash it. Scoop some water with the Tabo, arch your back, and reach behind you. Pour the water down your butt to clean the area.
Now the next part you won’t enjoy if you are squeamish, but I swear, once you walk out of that CR the first time with a squeaky-clean butthole, you will never go back to TP again.
Usually, there will be a bar of soap or a dispenser on the sink. Get some soap in your hand and wash your butt thoroughly. Use the Tabo to wash away the soap and let yourself air-dry.
It's no wonder Asian people think westerners are gross for only cleaning up after a poop by wiping with dry paper. It’s gross. You must use the soap in order to feel clean and refreshed.
Now, a lot of time you may go out to a mall or restaurant, and they may not even have a bucket and Tabo for you to clean yourself. This is where preparation is the key to everything.
Never, ever go anywhere where you might have to poop if you don’t have a package of baby wipes. I have adopted the Filipino style and wear a man-bag at my side, which can not only hold my phone and wallet, but a few packages of fresh-smelling baby wipes for emergencies.
A word of caution: Do not flush those used wipes down the toilet. There is usually a little trash can provided in the stall. Use that. The surest way to clog a toilet in the Philippines is to flush non-solubles.
Increasingly, I see many more private homes and businesses that provide toilet paper, and sometimes I still use it. But, I am so used to a clean and fresh bunghole that I always follow it up with the Tabo or some baby wipes.
Who knew we have been pooping wrong this whole time?
If you are ever in the Philippines or any country in SE Asia, take my advice and you will never suffer the embarrassment I did all those years ago.
You can thank me later.