Using the Bathroom in the Mountains of China


Women in the Bathroom

As a woman, it’s common knowledge that navigating the bathroom while you’re on your period is frustrating at best and physically painful at worst. By a terrible miracle of coincidence, our class weekend trip to the Great Wall of China coincided with some of my classmates’ menstrual cycles. We were told that the mountain village we would be staying at had no running water, no toilets, and no toilet paper. For about 1/3 of the women on this trip, we braced ourselves for hell. We packed dozens of wipes, tissues, pads, and pills, but we were still unprepared as women using the bathroom in the mountains of China for the first time.

Dinner is Served

When we arrived at the village, we were immediately greeted with a sumptuous dinner. The female villagers busied themselves preparing delicious dishes of pork, chicken, vegetables, and beef stew, all carefully placed on a rotating disc that encouraged us to eat together, not individually. This “family-style” way of dining has become one of my favorite traditions in China. The women watched and laughed as our class happily devoured dinner.

The Trench

As the sun set and our bellies settled, I became more anxious. No one had used the bathroom. Eventually, an older female villager led four female classmates and myself to her home where we would be sleeping. As we walked along the road through the village houses, we noticed that trenches were dug on both sides of the road. We didn’t realize what the trenches were for until our village guide squatted along the edge of the trench to explain how we could use the bathroom.

Our group nodded and smiled enthusiastically and thanked her for letting us stay the night in her cozy home. As soon as she wished us goodnight and left, we burst into fits of laughter. How the hell were we going to change our pads and tampons on the edge of a trench in the middle of the road in the middle of a village in the middle of China?

The Outhouse

It was soon clear that none of us were willing to use the bathroom in the trenches. We armed ourselves with flashlights and toiletries and trekked our way to the nearest outhouse. We lined ourselves up and took turns, shouting encouragements to each other and laughing hysterically into the night. When it was my turn, I quickly stopped laughing. I realized that there was nowhere to throw away my toilet paper or sanitary pad. I had a small trash bag with me, but then where would I dispose of the trash bag? The idea of just tossing my trash somewhere in the beautiful mountain village was unimaginable.

In that moment, I had never been more aware of my impact on pollution and how Western bathroom products are truly non-biodegradable and horrible for the earth. I was out there laughing myself silly with my classmates over the concept of using the restroom in a trench, but at least that process was natural and didn’t involve littering or adding more non-biodegradable waste to the earth. I felt wasteful and unclean, and suddenly the idea of using the bathroom by squatting next to a trench didn’t seem so weird or foreign. It seemed natural and obvious.