Letter from Lucknow #1: New Home, New Toilet Training

Dear Friends,

I am finally settled with my host family in Lucknow. I live on 3 Joplin Road – “next to Joooohn the Baker’s!” my host mother is fond of reminding me. The apartment is not more than a ten-minute walk to the Institute. I live with another student, a Christian whose bedside reading comprises of a bible and a guide for debating atheists. The flat is replete with a living room, three bedrooms, and a kitchen. The accommodations are modest, but most of the Western amenities are available—air conditioning, toilet, television, electricity, refrigeration, running water, etc. Power outages are frequent, and sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night to find my face covered in sweat and the air conditioner turned off. The power outages could be explained by our location—Uttar Pradesh, one of the most corrupt and inefficiently administered states in India. It could also be because we live in a Muslim area, where, according to one of my teachers, power outages tend to be more frequent.

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All that is lacking in our flat is toilet paper and a shower. Instead of a shower head, we have a tap and buckets. Up in the corner of the room, where sunlight streams through the opaque window glass, spiders weave their webs and bees buzz jovially by. I could be in a Snow White cartoon. Every morning I stand in my little white cell and wash myself with water and Ayurvedic hand soap, whistling, with my friends hovering above me. You fill the bucket up with water and wait for thirty minutes before bathing, otherwise (my host mother warns me) the metal pipeline boils the water.

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I was disappointed to discover the Western toilet: a part of me had wanted to give the old-fashioned Indian sit-and-squat method a try. One must be careful what one wishes for, I suppose: a diarrhea attack struck in the middle of my first night in Lucknow.

The night of the attack I grasped for paper by the side of the toilet, squinting into the darkness. My fingers closed over nothing but air. It slowly dawned on me that the buckets in the corner were meant for more than showering. I shifted to the corner of the room in a crouch and lifted the small green bucket. I turned it over in my hands experimentally. I gazed back at the toilet, thinking about how I should proceed. The problem: I needed to wipe my ass. My tools: a small hand bucket, water, and hands.

This, my friends, is why the left hand is India is considered “impure” and why Indians eat with their right hand. I returned to bed and pulled the covers over my neck, exhilarated from the adventure. I stared up to the ceiling, listening to the rotations of the creaking ceiling fan, and the wheeze of the air-conditioner. I thought to myself, “That wasn’t so bad.”

Diarrhea struck several more times that night.

(Letter written from Lucknow to friends and family in June, 2012)

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