- Nia Alexander Campbell
Toilets & Tampons
Synonyms for “bathroom”
Miscellaneous bathroom observations
Why not to flush toilet paper
What a hose is, how you use it, and how I felt about it
The nightmare that was my menstrual cycle
Where to buy feminine hygiene products and what the selection was like in Doha
Toilets. If you’re human, you’re going to be using one. Thing is, every country does them a bit differently. They go by different names, they have different equipment, and they may be connected to a sewage system that maybe different that what you’re used to.
Then when it comes to being a chick travelling abroad, well, we have to ask both the human questions (like, how do you use a squat toilet?) and the woman questions, like can I flush a tampon or should I toss it in the trash? What if there is a consistent lack of toilet paper? Is there a tiny trash can in the stall or do I have to carry my used lady products out into the open? Where do I even buy lady products? And how is changing time zones by 8 hours and moving to the desert going to effect my menstrual cycle, anyway?
Do you see what I’m getting at? That’s what this post is about. We’re going to talk about toilets, we’re going to talk about periods, and we’re even going to talk about the tiny, multi-pressured hoses used to clean off your poop hole and lady parts. We’re also going to use the word “vagina” unapologetically along with an array of Urban Dictionary-approved synonyms.
Are you ready to get into it?
Bathrooms, Toilets, Restrooms, Water Closets
Sphere sinks at The Gate Mall.
Being from the U.S., I was accustomed to the terms “bathroom” and “restroom” meaning “that place where the potty is”. Sometimes the word “loo” crossed my path on television, but that’s the only foreign synonym I had ever encountered. In Doha, however, I kept seeing signs with “WC” on it. I gathered that it meant a bathroom was nearby, but what did it mean? WC? I thought, Women . . . C? What does the C stand for? C . . . Turns out I had the abbreviation all wrong. “WC’ is short for “water closet”, just another word for bathroom.
I also began to hear the word “toilet” used to describe not only the porcelain pooper, but the whole room. That place where you use the bathroom, wash your hands, check your makeup, readjust bobby pins, take emergency phone calls, decompress after an intense presentation, that whole room was called “the toilet”.
Interesting, I thought.
I know, new words for bathroom may not be the most exciting topic, but when you’re looking for a bathroom that isn’t labeled “bathroom”, synonyms come in handy.
So, what else is there to be said about a bathroom?
You see that shiny rectangle on the wall with an oval inside? That was the dual flush button. Not only had I never seen a flusher on the wall, but I had also never encountered dual flush before. Nifty.
Most restrooms in public places have bathroom attendants (which explains why every public restroom I entered was hella clean)
Some public bathrooms have powder rooms (so you may walk into the ladies’ room at the mall and instead of immediately seeing stalls, you see a room with mirrors, sinks, and artificial flowers. You’re going to have to round another corner or go through another door to find the stalls).
I didn’t see any gender neutral or family restrooms
Public stalls are very private (you know how bathroom stalls in the U.S. have space at the bottom, big enough for a person to slide under? And wide gaps on either side of the door, big enough for an eye to see through? And short doors, short enough for someone with the upper body strength of a middle schooler to climb and peak their head over? Yeah, Doha didn’t have any of that).
Some restrooms were fancier or artsier than I anticipated (like the one at Gate Mall where everything was spherical).
Some restrooms had squat toilets (I stumbled into one by accident, but I learned they weren’t hard to use. They always had floor grippers, so your feet don’t slip, and otherwise the process was very straightforward. Granted, my knees hurt and I felt the repercussions of skipping leg day for three months at the gym, but it wasn’t a terribly difficult experience).
Most toilets had two flush buttons. One button was a small flush for liquid waste, and the other was a big flush for solid waste (these are called dual flush toilets and they’re more ecofriendly).
There was less water in toilet bowls compared to toilets in the U.S. (another ecofriendly choice).
There were always hoses (which I’ll talk more about later) and sometimes bidets
There were usually tiny trashcans in the stalls to toss away feminine products and un-flushable toilet paper.
Do you see that little sink behind me with the silver drain? Well, turns out that sink was a bidet. If only I had known that before I used it (and the hose) to rinse off some messy watercolor bottles . . . I thought all that extra equipment was for cleaning objects, not people! Learning curves, my friends, learning curves.
The sinks & mirrors at Al Jasra Hotel in Souq Waqif. Fancy, no?
I had never thought about whether or not toilet paper could be flushed. In the U.S., if there’s a toilet, then there’s toilet paper, and if there’s toilet paper, your flush it. Boom, bam, done.
But then I moved to Doha.
Doha was the first city I had ever been to with a modern sewage system that didn’t always welcome toilet paper. I’m not sure what the exact reason is for the “please no TP” rule—maybe the water pressure is weak, maybe the tissue doesn’t decompose well, maybe flat pipes laid across a flat desert leaves things stagnant, or maybe it’s partially a cultural thing—but whatever the reason, some toilets don’t want you to flush those little bleach & pulp squares.
But I didn’t know that until months after I had already been flushing.
Sorry pipes. So, so sorry.
Though I had spent nearly four months flushing toilet paper (primarily in the residence hall) with no visible incident (implying that perhaps toilet paper won’t incite utter doomsday for the Qatari sewage system), I still wish I had paid more attention. I remembered a poster I had seen at VCUQ on the first-floor bathroom indicating what sorts of items you shouldn’t flush. Included on that poster was an image of a rectangle with zig-zagged edges, probably a paper towel, I figured, toilet paper is cylindrical, I thought, but now I wonder if I was unintentionally, singlehandedly clogging the pipes at VCUQ all because I dismissively misread a sign.
Right, but if you shouldn’t be using toilet paper, what else could you use?
I know this post had more bathroom selfies than anticipated, but this is the last one, I promise. You see that silver thing beside the toilet? Like a long kitchen sprayer? I thought it was to clean the toilet, but nope! It’s to clean your butt (and lady bits).
So, if you shouldn’t always be flushing toilet paper, what else could you use to clean yourself with? I mean, technically you still could clean yourself with TP, but then how would you dispose of the stuff? Toss it in the trash?
I know, that sounds super nasty, and you know what, it is . . . Unless you use the hose.
The hose is technically a handheld bidet and most restrooms (private and public) had them. How do you use it? First use the toilet, then turn on the T-valve (to bring water into the hose), then spray yourself with the hose (at a slight distance from the front or back, whatever is comfortable), then use toilet paper to check for cleanliness and dry off.
Now in no-flush situations where you have to toss your toilet paper in the trash, guess what? The tissue you’re tossing isn’t really dirty, it’s just wet with water. And even in situations where you can flush the toilet paper, the hose is still an option, and I like having options.
You know how I said you first need to bring water into the hose by turning on the T-valve? Well, you can use the valve to adjust water pressure, which is not only helpful for getting clean, but it also prevents an intense jet stream suddenly ramming into your private parts and bruising all the squishy lady magic women keep down there. I had a habit of spraying the water into the toilet bowl first to get a sense of the water pressure before letting it come into contact with my pooper and lady bits.
When it came to hoses in public restrooms, though, I didn’t mess with ‘em. I’m sure they were cleaned regularly along with everything else in the stall, and I know if used properly there isn’t any skin-to-skin contact in the first place, but they still gave me the creeps in the same way sitting my raw behind on public toilet seats does. I also always packed some tissue in my purse just in case, whether I needed to wipe or just to dry off (because pulling up your pants with wet thighs is one of the most uncomfortable feelings imaginable). Plus, every restroom will always have a hose, but won't always have toilet paper.
Overall, though, heck, I liked the hose!
I didn’t have to worry about getting a UTI every time I accidently wiped the wrong way during a half-conscious 4am bathroom break. And when I was on my period, a hose could clean me up better than any amount of 2-ply (every girl knows that wiping away all the bloody evidence of a fertility can sometimes be a slippery mess, but you know what makes that cleanup easier? Spraying that kitty down with a hose first). I just felt clean, cleaner than any wet wipe commercial or fluffy Cottonelle bear can assert, clean like the way a baby probably feels when they’ve got someone else wiping their butt, clean like giving my private bits their own personal shower multiple times a day.
Like I said, I liked the hose.
But what about your period?
The sink at Northwestern. Doha had an uncanny amount of motion-activated sinks and very few of them were akin to the touch free sinks I was familiar with. This sink here didn't even have a bowl, the water just flowed back into that crevice.
Qatar straight up hijacked my menstrual cycle.
I mean it, it felt like Qatar lulled my uterus into a false sense of security then suddenly held it captive at gunpoint for four months, only for it to go through a spell of uterine PTSD after returning to the U.S. I had the worst periods of my life in Doha, and the cycles that hit after I came home were a nearly as bad.
Let me walk you through what went down:
For two years straight my menstrual cycle ran like clockwork—and not just any old clock—I mean a precise, cosmically aligned, well-oiled biological system that drew its timeliness from Mother Earth herself. I knew when my PMS would come, I knew what symptoms I would get, I knew how many days I’d bleed for, I knew how heavy the flow would be, and I knew 28 days later it would start all over again. There was no need for cycle tracking apps or calendar reminders, no, I was like a playlist stuck on loop.
Now, I knew that changing time zones was probably going to throw my cycle off, but I thought it would come a little early or a little late, be a bit lighter or a bit heavier—nothing too serious—and when my first period came, everything was fine.
Everything was fine.
I should have known that normalcy wasn’t going to last long.
You see, the reason that cycle was so normal is because most of it had been spent in Richmond, 18 out of the full 28 days. It makes sense that the 10 days I spent in Doha wouldn’t have been enough to shake up what had already been started.
Ah, but my second period—the one where I spent the full cycle in Doha—that was a nightmare. First of all, I didn’t have any PMS symptoms, which sounds like a blast, but it was a regular part of my cycle that had suddenly disappeared without a trace. Then one day I woke up feeling terribly dizzy, the kind of dizzy where you stand up and the room starts slanting, then you suddenly fall back onto crumpled bedsheets and wait for your surroundings to stop moving. I thought maybe I was dehydrated—and that may well have been a part of it—but I figured the high sodium ramen and 4 oz. of bad alcohol I had consumed the night before was to blame, I thought it was a onetime thing.
Eventually, I stumbled my way into the bathroom, examined myself in the mirror, splashed some water on my neck, then sat down on the toilet. Lo and behold, that’s when I realized my period had started (a bit earlier than anticipated), but I still didn’t think my symptoms had anything to do with my menstrual cycle. Remember, I thought my body was just dying of thirst.
After that harsh introduction, though, crippling dizziness became the name of the game every month. To add, the dizziness was accompanied by a spin wheel of random symptoms. Whereas I was used to sore breasts, irritability, and occasional cramps, suddenly Mother Nature was playing a game with my body. Dizzy spells? Muscle pain? Diarrhea followed by constipation? Nausea followed by increased appetite, then interrupted by nausea again? What about burning cramps? Or how about the feeling of Satan himself rhythmically squeezing your cervix like he’s trying to get the last drop of toothpaste out of a long since dry tube?
My once perfect female biological machine was on the frtiz.
What’s worse is that I usually felt too sick to go to class.
My symptoms always lasted at least 48 hours and as “cool” as it is to skip class, well, it wasn’t something I ever wanted to do in Doha.
The one time I did go to class feeling like crap was when I had a critique for senior thesis. I came wildly early because I knew it would take me twice as long to set up my artwork, but even after crit got started I couldn’t participate like I wanted to . . . my insides were rioting. After that, I saw myself drilling a hole through my finger or setting someone else on fire in jewelry studio, barely being able to see straight. I saw myself trying to focus in art history, fighting back the urge to upchuck in the front row, or giving a presentation while the room kept rocking back and forth like a rowboat on the ocean.
These periods were just frustrating
They were frustrating not only because of the physical pain, but because none of my symptoms were consistent in the way they had been in the U.S. I was having to relearn my body and the only thing the internet could suggest was to drink more water, lay down, and “relax, girl!”. I’ll admit, upping my water intake to a reasonable amount for a desert climate did take the edge off my symptoms during my last period, but that was my last period. Imagine, the first time I finally felt my body mellowing out was a few days before I had to move back to the U.S. and start this process all over again.
As one may imagine, moving back to the U.S. tossed my body into a complete upheaval, and my menstrual cycle was screwed up for for seven cycles. On the bright side, I didn’t get dizzy like I did in Doha, but in exchange I had my first cycle last 35 days—a whole extra week—and every subsequent cycle was a wild hodgepodge of nausea, back aches, mood swings, intestinal upset, and cramps from hell.
But I’m not the only one.
Want to hear something interesting? One of the exchange students from Doha who studied in Richmond told me a similar story: The periods she experienced in Richmond were the worst ones of her life. Perhaps it’s all part of the exchange experience?
Seriously, though, my point is that my menstrual nightmare wasn't an isolated experience; other girls had problems too, the ones who came to Doha and the ones who went to Richmond. I just want you all to have a better awareness than I of what could be going on with your body, just in case the whole Richmond-to-Doha-and-back thing throws it a surprise 80 mph curveball.
Time out. Where do you get lady products anyway?
Tampons, pads, panty liners, menstrual cups, period panties, where do you get them in Doha?
Possibly pharmacies, minimarts, and gas stations, but I never really looked for them there. I can say for certain, though, that I saw them at grocery stores and hypermarkets. You know how you can walk into Target, Walmart, or even Kroger and find a whole aisle worth of feminine products? It was the same concept in Doha, except that the aisles seemed shorter because there were less options available. You know how in the U.S. we’ve got dozens of options when it comes to length, thickness, absorbency, wrapper color, material, brand, scent (which is weird), and of course options in the product itself (i.e. pads, tampons, menstrual cups, etc.)? Well, cut all those options, styles, combinations, and comfort levels down by half and that’s what I found in Doha.
That's not to say Qatar was void of feminine products, not by far. There were enough options available for me to comfortably say that you don't need to include a 36 ct. pack of Always Super Long Maxi's in your luggage, you can save that precious storage space for something else! Woo!
I didn't see any menstrual cups, but I definitely saw plenty of pads in Doha and I think a decent amount of liners. There were also tampons, including some American brands, but shit they were expensive! Plus, a lot of the tampons I did see didn’t have the plastic applicator most women in the U.S. are accustomed to. Yes, this mean that you’re going to have to shove a piece of chemical-laced cotton into your vagina without the assistance of that non-biodegradable plastic tube. What was that like? I don’t know, I’m not a tampon-wearin’ gal. In fact, I never even had to buy any feminine products in Doha because I brought my American lady products with me. Did it take up a considerable amount of space in my suitcase? Yes, yes it did. However, for my first time studying abroad for an entire semester in a new country, I'd say the comfort of knowing I'd have access to the products I was familiar with was worth it.
I also noticed men in Doha got hella weird when it came to walking down the lady aisle. I know American guys can get a little squirrely when boxed in by a wall of tampons, but in Doha it was like a forcefield went up. Men with their wives or cousins or friends would suddenly just stop before entering that aisle, reroute like there was a road block, even if their party was just cutting through the aisle on their way to the frozen food section.
A toilet bowl at The Gate Mall. Yes, it was weird to use a toilet shaped like a giant marble.
The U.S. is much more prude than we like to admit, so topics like bathroom habits, personal hygiene, and lady parts are often dubbed inappropriate in some capacity. You shouldn’t talk about it with your friends, you don’t know how to talk about it with your doctor, and whenever you Google something you go incognito. But, here’s the thing: Millions of women have blood & mucous pass through their vagina every month and everybody uses the bathroom. Travelling can throw your body out of whack or just mentally throw you for a loop having to learn how things work. Being in a new climate, breathing in new air, dealing with a new time zone, and eating food grown in different soil or fed different feed are the sorts of things that can mess with your body, including a woman’s menstrual cycle. And just like you may have to relearn how to drive in foreign traffic, or relearn how the mail system works, or relearn how to order food, you may have to relearn how to use the bathroom.
It’s part of the adventure, for better or worse.