If I had to nail down the one key to my heart (gun to the head, you only get to pick one key, go:), it’s poop. Specifically, high-brow conversations about poop (and to be clear, no I absolutely do not mean “poop play”). If we’re friends, you’re probably painfully aware of this–I play-by-play every one of my bowel movements moments after they happen (and they happen quite often). Or I’ll regularly remind coworkers and casual passersby that their pink eye is likely a product of touching feces and then touching their eyes (what? it’s science, and frankly a pretty good reminder from God that you shouldn’t go poking around poop with your finger).
“Well why don’t you write a blog post about it?” Said no one, ever.
With more and more stories out about viruses and bacterium (poop’s overachieving cousins, who for reasons unclear to me, are more socially acceptable to talk about) I’d like to do my part to fan the larger feces family’s flames, so to speak, as part of a multi-pronged effort to spread the fascination with poop. And what better way to do that than through a series of vignettes…on viruses, bacteria, and feces:
- Part 1: Patient Zero. The origins of how AIDS came to the US (spoiler alert: it’s not that flight attendant everyone keeps blaming).
- Part 2: My Turkish toilet. A story of me learning how to poop again at age 20 while I was studying abroad in Africa, with a Turkish toilet.
Here we go…
PART 1: Patient Zero
When I studied abroad in Africa, one of our field trips was to a witch doctor healing camp™. Now if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: I love when a stereotype goes out of its way not to deviate at all from the mental image you’ve locked away, and the witch doctor healing camp, thankfully, followed through on it’s promises: a tribal dance show, a panel of “healed” patients, thatched huts and a ritualistic offering of a cow.
As a bit of background, Senegal is part of french-speaking Africa, and though I had taken french for nine years at that point, I was barely conversational with my two year old host child (generationally, I refused to call her my host sister, me being 20 at the time). My beautiful, white smile paired together with the other students in my program (who I relied on as translators) got me linguistically through those four months… but as I always say: it takes a village.
So in a nutshell, it’s already hard enough for me to maintain interest in presentations, much less when they’re in French at a crazy ass witch doctor healing camp (I guess it’s worth noting at this point that it’s official name was probably something like a “holistic healing center”). Drifting in and out of consciousness, I suddenly started to hear a few words that caused me to perk up: “SIDA” (which is AIDS in French), “American” and “pharmaceutical companies.” I started paying attention again, and shot my friends a very confused glance:
“Ummm?? Did he just say what I think he said”
“Gurrrrrl!” Incidentally, this conversation happened entirely with our eyes.
The presenter/witch doctor had just said that AIDS was brought over to Africa by American pharmaceutical companies who did testing in villages even though they knew the consequences of the virus. I raised my hand:
“Umm, hi. Yes, Christopher Katsaros representing the fine state of California, thanks,” building the brand wherever I go, “everyone knows that AIDS actually came when an African villager had sex with a monkey, duh.” Of course, in my follow-up, I cited dozens of Southpark episodes and the like as evidence. You’re not getting anything passed this Leslie Stahl, Africa.
So, aside from being a colossal waste of time, all of what you just read is a roundabout way of saying that most us have a vague idea where AIDS originated, but not really. There was this flight attendant who was really gay and that sounds like an interesting and semi-plausible story so let’s just go with that.
That story gained ground after a CDC report in the early 80s looked at AIDS victims and their sexual partners, and all pointed back to Gaetan Dugas–that “devastatingly handsome” flight attendant, who sadly is nowhere near as attractive as stories make him out to be. This is actually the first time that the term “Patient 0” was used. However, scientists have since studied the genetic makeup of the virus which has showed that (a) it was in the United States as early as 1966, when Dugas was a youth and before he entered the United States and that (b) it probably transferred to humans from a small village deep in Congo in the early 1900s.
RadioLab looked into the origins of AIDS and I don’t even want to try and summarize it because it’s far and away the most rewarding way you can spend 26 minutes of your life (listen here). If you’re listening to the podcast, it’s part of Season 10 Episode 4, a three-part episode that looks at Patient Zeros including “Typhoid Mary,” a real person who was a cook on Long Island. Do yourself a favor and just listen to it.
PART 2: Learning to poop again, at age 20
(I wrote this when I was studying in Dakar, Senegal during my junior year of college. If you’re keeping track now, this is the second time in this post that I’ve reminded you that I lived in Africa. Being able to tell stories like these was in fact the primary driver for that decision)
My Turkish toilet ran out of water today, making it officially just a hole in the ground. Yay.
This seems like as good an opportunity as any to discuss and dissect the Turkish toilet. Anyone who’s been to a no-name gas station in the middle of the Mojave desert is probably familiar with the concept, but for the rest of you, I’ll elaborate.
It’s a glorified hole in the ground (ha! I almost said glory hole. Which, I can assure you, a Turkish toilet is not). The hole is surrounded by a porcelain base, flanked by two inconveniently placed footpads. I say inconvenient because, when your feet are positioned on their posts, your body is completely out of alignment with the hole. Your pee goes just slightly too far (causing you to create a little watering hole on the ground of your bathroom) and your poop lands slightly north of the hole, and rests there until it’s “dealt with.” This is, of course, no good at all.
You see, there’s an art to pooping in a Turkish toilet. You’ve got to have your poop fall just perfectly so that it goes directly down the hole. Otherwise, it’ll land on the porcelain part, which is fine except for the fact that you have to then coax the doobie down the drain. And the last thing anyone wants to do is have a face-to-face conversation with their excrement on why it should move an inch to the South and go down the hole. For any of you that have taken a shower at a friend’s house before–a friend with really long hair–you know how this coaxing goes: you cup some water and splash it at the hair with a trajectory pointed towards the drain (as a “thank you” gift for keeping their shower so clean, I usually pee in the long-haired friend’s shower). Same thing with poop, except rather than a minuscule piece of fiber, you’ve got a somewhat more substantial mass that is perfectly happy to sit and rot on the floor of your bathroom. Nonetheless, the same rules of cupping water apply, but with a little more force on a slightly more angled trajectory.
Where was I? Oh yes, the art of pooping. So you have to align your rectum/bung hole/etc directly over the hole. This is easier said than done. Think about where your butt is. Duh, you know where that is, easy. But now, specifically, think of where your butthole is?
“Well, I thought I knew where that was–it’s somewhere in that crack.” Yeah, but where specifically?
“Oh, I found it!” Great. Now, to make it even more difficult, squat down on your knees and try to line it up over an imaginary hole on the floor behind you. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Especially for you people reading this in a public space; I will absolutely wait for you to do this. Did you find it yet? Still didn’t? Yeah, exactly my point. When crouched in this position, your butthole becomes lost in your blindspot.
It took a little trial and error at first to find exactly where my butthole was in the beginning. And I’m not going to lie, it definitely required squatting down even further and watching the first couple of times to get the trajectory just right. But now I’m at a point where I’m very familiar with my butthole and it’s firing capabilities.
Personally, I don’t mind the Turkish toilet. Would I prefer a regular toilet, with a seat? Of course, I always relish at the opportunity to take a break out of my hectic day and just sit down and relax. In fact, all of the other students have normal toilets at their houses–even the “poor” one. But, I happen to be quite an efficient pooper–it’s what I’m known for (“Hey, there goes Chris. Man he is a quick pooper, that shit just flies out of him.”) And as a result, the squatting toilet doesn’t bother me much.
So here’s another plus to my Turkish toilet: it doubles as a drain for my shower. I know what you’re thinking: how is this a plus? Well, now, when I pee whilst taking a shower, I really don’t have to feel guilty (not that anyone should feel guilty, but there are some in the liberal media that try to demigod this wholly natural act). But, more importantly, it allows me to fulfill one of my life long dreams: pooping in the shower. Ever since the first day that I accidentally peed in the shower (and discovered it to be a shockingly rewarding experience) have I dreamed about the next genesis of this act: pooping in the shower. Now, I finally get to make that dream a reality. And without feeling guilty or disgusting. And let me tell you: truly magical. Everyone should do it once in their life. In fact, I really think you’re onto something here, Senegal…