10 Things to Consider when Using Public Restrooms Overseas
The following is a post by guest author, Samina Farooq
I’m sure that it’s an international issue but I’m going to specifically discuss public washrooms around the religious sanctities. Since tahara (cleanliness) is half our faith, but in my travels, it has become clear that people don’t understand how to behave in them, let alone taking care of tahara.
Yes it’s a fairly gross subject but this dormant “loo-phobia” you may have, could soon be defeated by nature hitting its panic button on you. You will start to see black spots floating in the air and one of them of them will even speak to you. Nature does not always wait for the most opportune time to make its appearance; your days there (specially at hajj) may be longer than your endurance. So sometimes you are forced to visit the nearest facility. Unfortunately, the nearest restrooms are not always the most fun to call upon. And in case you can’t find one near, just follow your senses. Your nose will guide your way. Wherever it smells funny, there it is. But you won’t be laughing!
So consider this a refresher course, a guide, to be crammed, forwarded or shared as needed. Not for the weak hearted – just breathe into a paper bag until you throw up. But till then, bear with me.
1) Clean after yourself
Now this is a no-brainer. Bathrooms should be clean. There should be no sign of fecal matter (yours or anyone else’s). But since it’s not always the case, you will walk into a cubicle and walk right out again, mentally and emotionally scarred. To even get to the seat, you have to wade through a lake of mystery liquid that, by the laws of logistical probability, very likely isn’t water. And when you arrive, you may find that the last person to use it couldn’t decide because it’s everywhere but in the bowl given, which isn’t rocket science. Feces are supposed to go in the water inside the toilet into the dark abyss.
“Duh” you say. “Everyone knows that.”
Oh really? Then why is it on the toilet seat and on the restroom floor approximately all the time?
There is a button located directly above the toilet paper that is marked with the word… wait for it… “FLUSH”. Press that! And if the water isn’t available then you should’ve kept a water bottle with you. If its too late then cry us some river please and get it flushed.
You shouldn’t expect free toilet paper, tissue or soap either. So carry them with you in small amounts.
P.S. if it’s like a cubicle from which Ikea should learn space management, then don’t go in with big gallons of water (above 1 litre – definitely a no no) because that will leave no space for you. And if you start to wrestle in there deciding whether the bottle should occupy the space or you, making people outside lose it and giving up right beside the door of your cubicle then you may not have many gymnastic abilities to try when stepping out.
2) Cover and let others stay covered
People naturally expect privacy in the restroom but it’s far from priority for most.
You may get in to only find your second biggest fear happening (I say second biggest fear because your first biggest fear is obviously being that person) – someone didn’t lock the door and is now smiling at you. Smiling is sunnah (the way of the Prophet, peace be upon him), I accept, but in such circumstances, it’s frightening. But obviously screaming too, is the worst option at that time. It will draw a large crowd. Just close the door immediately – don’t even wait to apologize. If the guilt is overwhelming then offer them something from your bag/purse/wallet as a peace offering – definitely after they have stepped out of the cubicle. Or you can stand outside their door and beg for their forgiveness. If they were out of water (as you may have noticed in a split second), you could go to a bathroom close by and steal some ‘lota’ (water for cleaning after using the restroom) but be sure to knock to make sure no one is in there. You don’t want to get stuck doing double bathroom apologies. It will get expensive and tiring. And you may lose your own control during the process.
There is a clear line that is not supposed to be crossed. Your satr (area of the body to stay covered from others) is from navel till knees. Keep it covered. Nobody wants to see it. (This is meant for men in ihram (ritual purity when at pilgrimage) also – people are there to attain khushoo’ (awareness and closeness to Allah) and your unawareness about your whereabouts could make a difference).
If you can’t find any stall empty, please prefer the bushes over exhibition because others may join you in your brave-step-taken and now you have a sin of the entire bathroom audience on you and this would yank up the Haram (forbidden) meter up to a highest level.
3) Don’t steal toiletries
The person you saw smiling at you may have a reason behind it – No bathroom lock.
Now I don’t know if people think if they are going to build their own toilet someday or open a bathroom business that’s why they came in with screws and took all the locks away or it’s their way of serial revenge, but that stuff is not for free and it’s not yours to take away. Let it be where it belongs. Or next time you will be in that state where one of your hands will be covering the space from where the lock is kidnapped and another will be holding the door (while someone will be trying to open it) and you won’t be the one smiling this time. What goes around comes around. Beware!
Please don’t steal – be it locks, tissue paper, lota (water jug), pipes etc. Anything. You don’t want to owe so many people, toiletries, on the Day of Judgment.
4) Don’t answer nature calls with a conversation
Now here’s a fairly interesting pet peeve: talking. Holding court in the area where people are relieving themselves is not good for unbiased judgments. They might not want to be your audience or testify for anything in your favor. And worse than observing a forum, is having someone engage them in that conversation.
You do know it’s not ok to talk while attending to your business, right?
And even the most commonest-of-all-common senses say, it’s just gross.
Which brings me to attending phone calls in the toilet.
If there’s any sort of line, don’t use your phone in the bathroom. This is purely a matter of courtesy. Please focus on the task at hand. If it’s called a restroom, it doesn’t mean you rest in there. No text or a selfie can be more urgent than what others, with bladders the size of a grape, in line need to do – every second for whom means the difference between dignified relief and a desperate sprint out the door to a dark corner of the nearest hill/jungle, which you shouldn’t be grumpy about, when you step on it.
…..(Rest of the 10 points to be continued)
Samina Farooq is the Co-founder of AYEINA and Co-creator of the #AlhamdulillahForSeries – A gratitude journal for Muslims. She’s an engineer by qualification, a Quran and Arabic-language student by occupation, a photographer by eye, a writer by heart, an artist by nature and a Muslim by soul..