7 July 2009

[Note:  The Iraq team intended this piece to be humorous.  Our constituents should not feel obligated to mail toilet paper to Iraq, and they should definitely not send pigs.]

When those of us on the Iraq team were preparing to live temporarily in the IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp, we asked our translator, “How do people dispose of the used toilet paper? ”  The translator advised, “ You can start practicing to use your left hand and water now so you won't need toilet paper.”  It was a big challenge to the team’s comfort zone, although this idea is culturally, economically, and environmentally friendly.  The toilet paper won out over hand and water idea.  The team decided to bring a wastebasket.

In the last week of June, the team realized the finances were running dangerously low.  We were preparing for one more trip to the IDP camp for the month of June and had to decide between transportation and toilet paper.  If we chose a convenient and comfortable way of transportation to the camp, we might not have money to buy toilet paper for the rest of June.  If we chose a less comfortable but cheaper ride, we could afford to buy toilet paper.  Again, the team struggled with the hand and water method and, at the end of this struggle, toilet paper won again.  A neighbor heard about the team’s economic trouble.  He offered the team a cheaper car and four rolls of toilet paper.  Toilet paper won for the third time in a week.

But must toilet paper always be the winner in our lives?  Many years ago, CPT Iraq team member Chihchun Yuan joined a labor camp in a Cambodian village.  On the first day, she could not smell or see any toilet.  She brought this question to the host through a translator.  They told her, “ Find a pig, she is your toilet.”  Yuan was to shy to ask more details about how people go to the toilet.  The next morning, armed with the advice of the locals, her imagination, and old habit, Yuan showed up in front of a mother pig with toilet paper in her hand.  When she finished, the mother pig and her babies ate everything that came out from her except the piece of toilet paper.  She moved the toilet paper to the mother pig.  The mother pig turned her head and refused to eat the used paper.  Finally, Yuan gave up and realized she had to leave this dirty evidence in this clean paradise.  She felt ashamed to visit the village again.

Toilet paper is a stuff we do not really think a lot about in daily life.  However, it can be our last straw sometimes.  Think about what it would be like if the team has to close the project because we can’t afford toilet paper.