When I went to the bathroom in my Mongolian apartment for the first time, I allowed myself a moment to smirk pridefully at the wastebasket within arm’s reach. I used the kickstand to open the top and affirm my suspicions. Yup – Mongolia was a No Flushing Toilet Paper country. Totally fine; I was a world traveler. Greece and Turkey had similar policies, and I had mastered the art of not breathing while throwing away used TP. Going to the bathroom in Mongolia was going to be a breeze.
A week later, I left the city for an hours-long road trip with Gany and a driver from Samaritan’s Purse. We were going to visit three families in order to check up on their health after recently going to the United States for heart surgeries. We had gotten a mid-morning start, and after a couple hours we stopped at a seemingly random hill that housed four pavilion tents and at least a hundred people. I found out that this would be the finish line of a horse race that was taking place in celebration of Naadam. We bought some khuushuur and let the oil drip down our fingers as we leaned out of the open truck doors.
“Do you need to go to the bathroom?” Gany asked.
Having been raised under the adage, “If there’s a toilet, you go whether you have to or not,” I had already scoped out the location and determined that there were no restrooms. “I’m good,” I told my friend. We wiped off our greasy hands on a roll of toilet paper Gany had packed, and our driver continued to bounce down and up the grassy Mongolian hills.
We continued to bounce despite my ever-expanding bladder. The countryside is a stunningly simplistic dichotomy of blue skies and green hills, but there is not much in the way of houses or even trees. I stopped drinking water. Another hour passed.
“I’ve got to go to the bathroom,” Gany said. “What about you?
“Yes!” I admitted. I scanned the horizon eagerly, but…there was no change. Maybe that was the magic of these hills in the middle of nowhere. You could crest the top of one and suddenly overlook a whole city of bathrooms. Shockingly, that didn’t happen. Instead, the truck pulled to a stop. “Are we stuck?” I asked.
Gany looked at me in confusion. “No…this is our bathroom break.”
She noticed my panicked glance at our male driver. “Don’t worry, he will use the other side of the truck.”
“Oh,” I said. “….Good.”
Gany grabbed the roll of toilet paper, and I paused in sad understanding. I should have known something like this was coming since we had packed our own TP. I followed Gany slowly away from the truck as she unwound a handful and passed it to me. I ignored the sound of our driver peeing. “I’ll take the left!” Gany said, like I was supposed to know what that meant. The left…tree? Bush? There were neither. Dutifully, I veered to the right, then course-corrected as I realized the truck was no longer blocking me from our driver. Where was I supposed to go to the bathroom? The ground stretched in an unbroken plane in every direction.
Breaking an unspoken friendship code, I snuck a glance to my left when I heard the sounds of peeing once again. Yup, Gany was squatting in the middle of a field. I guess that meant…I would too. Quick tip: trying to pull your pants down as quickly as possible guarantees that something will get caught and the whole process will take longer than necessary. In my case, it also meant I peed a little on my shoe. It pays to take your time.
As soon as I was once more fully clothed and had kicked a smattering of dirt over the used TP, I felt triumphant. I had used the bathroom outdoors! I was a modern woman who could occasionally sacrifice personal dignity without complaint. I was the best traveler ever. I’d conquered my (previously unknown) fear of peeing in plain sight, so that meant I would never have to do it again! …Right?