Last weekend, Mr.YemenEm organized a volleyball tournament at the hotel for Yemeni high school students who recently returned from doing exchange programs in the U.S Every student desperately hoped they’d be placed in a a high rise apartment in New York City, but instead, they were placed in some really random places. (Albeit places that are likely much more indicative of the American experience). One girl spent a school year on a farm in the Ozarks. Her host family was worried about having a “city girl” come to stay with them since this girl was raised in Sana’a. But she ended up loving her experience living in rural America and, despite being told that people would probably hold some racism about Arabs, she never experienced any discrimination.
Another girl was in Buffalo, New York. She described her family as “one of those families who love Disney and their entire house is decorated in Disney and they have cabinets full of Donald Duck figurines and my sheets were Mickey Mouse and they go on two vacations a year to Disney World.” Ew, said I.
Another boy was lucky enough to be in Hawaii for a year where he learned to surf and another boy was in Texas with host parents who were just in their mid-20s, and he loved hanging out with them, really liked Texas, and loooved the barbeque.
I asked the girl with the Mickey Mouse parents what she found most surprising about being in America. Was is that high school girls can be terribly mean? Was it that high schoolers drink alcohol? Was it all the food selection? Was it the freedom?
“To tell you the truth, the thing that surprised me the most out of anything, is that there isn’t water by the toilets in America,” she said.
I had to laugh because this was one of the things that surprised me most about living in the East.
So for you Westerners who are not aware (as I was not aware just nine months ago) Easterners rinse off after going to the bathroom. (At least this is true in Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, and seemed to be true in SE Asia as well). In Yemen there is usually a hose next to the toilet. The bathrooms at the embassy were built for Americans, so the Yemeni women have developed a makeshift rinser by putting water bottles in the stalls. The Yemeni ladies will walk in, take a bottle out of the stall, fill it with water from the sink, and take it in to the stall, every single time they use the toilet. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that Muslims are supposed to make sure their body is clean before praying to Allah. I also imagine that the Yemeni women must think us American women are not as concerned with hygiene what with us performing but a paltry dry wipe. My personal thought is that I don’t feel like getting wet every time I go to the bathroom. One time I was forced to use the truly revolting bathroom at the Sana’a Airport, which also has an Eastern-style toilet. Meaning it was a hole in the ground. There was no toilet paper, so I used a hose. Then I was essentially soaking wet. Standing soaking wet over a hole in the ground in what might be one of the top 10 yuckiest airports is not a good feeling. But I’m sure Mr.YemenEm and I were going on vacation somewhere great, so how cranky could I be, really?
One last bathroom story: Mr.YemenEm has this Japanese-American friend in Washington DC who lives in a gorgeous house whose gourmet kitchen is rivaled only by the gourmet bathroom. This bathroom has a pricey Japanese toilet that is such a pure delight that I used it four times during a party. First, the toilet is heated, so a toasty lid welcomes your bottom. Second, its water-shooter (aka, bide) function had at least five intensities from hand-held squirt gun, to Super Soaker, to the hoses zookeepers use to give elephants baths. And the water for that was heated too! Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the sucker gave you a warm air dry at the end. I was actually drinking more beer that I wanted to because I wanted to use the toilet as many times as possible during the few hours I was there.
Anyways, lots of other things beyond toilets have surprised me about Yemen, and I’m sure I’ll get to those in a sure-to-be-poignant Looking Back At My Time in Yemen post in the very near future. (Mr.YemenEm and I have just 40 days left here!)
To experiencing new cultures and new toilets,