The lota position

The lota positionLast week I spent an entire morning reading about poop.

I hadn’t planned it, and Lord knows I certainly could have used that time more productively, but it was engrossing stuff (if you’ll pardon the pun.)

The blame for my lost morning lies squarely on the shoulders of Wajahat Ali, writer of the article, “Secrets of the Muslim Bathroom.” The title is misleading, as only one secret is divulged: the existence of the lota, a small water-filled vessel used to clean one’s nether regions (using the left hand, never the right) after using the toilet. This cleansing ritual, practised by the Prophet Muhammad himself, is called istinja.

I did not know this.

It annoys me when I uncover things I don’t know (I’m perpetually grumpy as a result), so I decided to educate myself by googling “lota.” You know what happened next: that giant sucking sound you heard Wednesday at 8:00 a.m. EST was me being swept into the vast, churning vortex known as The Internet.

I learned that the traditional lota was crafted from brass or copper and resembled a teapot. But time and the diaspora have blurred the lines of lota legitimacy. The modern-day version is the plastic watering can: inexpensive, lightweight, and widely available. Knowing that his “magical chalice” has morphed into something so prosaic makes Ali cringe. Still, it’s a far cry from the buckets of dubious water I saw beside squat toilets in Singapore and Malaysia. Those never looked the slightest bit hygienic.

(Fun fact: The round base of the old-school lota caused it to roll from side to side, and in a lovely instance of definition creep, the word now also refers to someone whose loyalties are constantly shifting. South Asian governments run by such politicians are called lotacracies. I can’t wait to casually drop that term into a conversation.)

My next move was to check out a few lota-related discussions on the Muslim forums. The one regarding the question, “Would you marry a girl who didn’t use a lota?” was especially fascinating. (The result? “No way!” by a landslide.) Interestingly, the bias against lota-less lovelies appears to be more a matter of culture and cleanliness than religion.

Here’s where it got a little weird. From there — and don’t ask me how; it’s all a blur— I started reading about the history of the toilet, which led me to the subject of human waste disposal in general. Somehow or other I ended up on Amazon, debating whether or not to buy the Toilets of the World wall calendar. (No, in case you were wondering.) Then I browsed the book section, bouncing from Everybody Poops 410 Pounds a Year to Kama Pootra (“Every time the bathroom door closes, a new experience awaits.”)

That’s when I knew it was time to call it a day.


About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
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16 Responses to The lota position

  1. lol. I don’t know which is funnier, all the poop info, cleaning up after it, or you being drawn into the abyss otherwise known as the internet. Excuse the expression but, (shit happens!)

  2. Sine says:

    LOVE THIS Maria! From “that giant sucking sound you heard Wednesday at 8:00 a.m. EST was me being swept into the vast, churning vortex known as The Internet.” all the way to the Toilets wall calendar you had my laughing out loud. That SO sounds like a day I could have had. I blame mostly this on never making progress on book writing.

    I just started noticing these squat toilets here in South Africa too. Especially in more heavily Muslim areas like Durban. You’ll find one stall that is more closed off than the rest (I assume lest the water seeps out at the bottom). I actually observed some women in full hijab (hajib – sorry, not culturally educated) go into one of those the other day at the airport. It took forever for one of them to come out again (the only reason for me watching that long being that daughter number one took even longer in HER stall) and then her hands were wet, and like everyone else she headed straight for the sinks. It just seems so weird for someone not having grown up with that that you would have to put your clothes back on with those wet hands, but I suppose when you wear a gown it’s easier. Maybe that’s why gowns are worn?

    To round out the toilet discussion and give you something to laugh about in turn, may I suggest this very entertaining discussion of the German “inspection shelf toilet” (something I grew up with, unknowing that this was in any way special or weird) I read the other day. and Enjoy!

    • Maria says:

      Sine, you won’t believe it, but that Planet Germany post is one of the many I read during my time in the vortex! I actually googled “German toilet shelf” (along with “bidet” and “Japanese Washlet.” I’m not quite finished writing about poop, you see …

      • Judy says:

        I’m glad to hear you’re doing a lota research! (sorry, couldn’t help myself) 🙂

      • Maria says:

        A lota joke, Judy? I thought for sure you’d go for a poop joke. 🙂

      • Sine says:

        That’s amazing! Maybe it’s not such a big empty hole after all, if you have touched on all the excellent poop articles (now there’s a term) already… Can’t wait what else you have in store.

      • Maria says:

        I just read an entire book on the subject. And I’ll never flush the toilet without first closing the lid again.

  3. Hahahaha. Oh the internet. I love it so. And now, via the powers interwebular serendipity, am better prepared, culturally, for a move to Indonesia (in two weeks!) to a country which I assume will be lota-ful.

    • Maria says:

      I’m glad about your cultural better-preparedness. I guess that means my work here is done….

      Good luck with the move — can’t wait to hear all about it.

  4. katrijn says:

    I remember my French friend in Ireland being very upset about the lack of bidets and the ensuing uncleanliness in her nether regions. I do find the squat toilets actually more hygienic than the western ones, especially in public places. At least I don’t have to touch anything and I love the little shower thingies to clean myself. Again, no touching anything and still getting clean (if my hands are wet, they are wet because of the clean water from the hose, not from the not-so-clean water exiting my body.)

    However. Apparently is our Dutch habit of checking out our excrement afterwards (because of the toilet shelf thing) the reason why intestinal cancer gets caught very early and thus is very treatable.

    But then you probably already discovered all of this and just couldn’t fit it into the blog post 😀

    • Maria says:

      Squatting is also physiologically more conducive to emptying your bowels. And with all the colon cancer in my family, I applaud the Dutch and the Germans for their habit of glancing back. Next week I’ll be writing more about the wonderful world of poop — stay tuned!

  5. Great…. now I’m grumpy because I didn’t know about this either!!!

  6. Miss Footloose says:

    How did I end up here, reading this post? Clicking from one thing to another. I guess now it is my turn to do one about you-know-what. Great reading, Maria!

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