Indian Toilet Situations

I’m quite confident when home in Sydney that I can ask any shop, restaurant, or pub if I can use their bathroom and they’ll accommodate. Maybe the hook on the door will be broken off, or there won’t be a handle to grab and slide on the lock. Perhaps the half flush won’t work and I’ll be obligated to use the full flush button, but that’s about as horrific as it gets.


When I was being grilled by friends and family about the dangers of India, no one seemed concerned about the toilet standards or warned me of the traumas that would result when nature called…


A few days before boarding the plane, I discovered the Indian custom of toilet-going. As I understand it, the standard is to use the “left hand method”. Basically this is an absence of toilet paper, in place for using a cup of water and one’s left hand. I was petrified when I discovered this and ran to the bathroom cupboard to cram full toilet rolls into my backpack for fear of being stranded in a cubicle by the side of the road, merely with a bucket and cup. For this reason, there were countless times where I exited the toilet and ran, as I had disobeyed the “no paper in toilet” sign. I have definitely disrupted the sensitive Indian sewerage system.


Upon arriving in Mumbai, I determined this anarchy must be myth, as the airport toilets were quite western (apart from the curious hose next to the paper dispenser – which I later found out to be a bidet). This familiarity did not last long. From there on, it was stealing napkins from restaurants, asking hostels for paper supplies, and rationing my tissue packets. And you can forget about soap. If ever in India, note how everyone you see (including the cooks) only really put their right hands near the food…


I had been wondering what the poor Indian women did when there was no paper, but after having to stop on the bus ride from Udaipur to Jodhpur, I found out…


Let me preface this incident with an overshare of my toilet habits: I am a big utkatasana fan (“chair pose” in yogi terms – think epic squat). I don’t think I’ve had direct contact with a public toilet seat for any of my adult life thus far. No. Just no. So as you can probably imagine then, I’m not afraid of those non-western squatting toilets, of which there are many in India. Where I do find trouble however, is when women are expected to hang out in their burning quads, waiting to dry in the polluted Indian breeze.


But surely that’s just highway toilets right? Wrong. The “public” toilets in Jodhpur were just that: public. Imagine your worst squatter toilet nightmare, then minus the cubicle door. Then add a population density of 383 per square kilometre featuring lovely main street views. I suppose I did want to learn more about Indian men and women…

When you are fortunate enough to find a four-walled bathroom with a ceiling, it requires a certain level of contortionism to use.


And it gets worse. After the evening bus ride to Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal, I concluded that the nicest toilet facilities I’d seen on the trip were the luxurious aeroplane ones. Squatter toilets and no paper is one thing, but no toilets in the cubicle is a whole other level. I have no problem with relieving myself in the bush – my experiences using the African “bush toilets” (think private foliage and shovel) were infinitely more pleasant than the collection of unearthly sights and smells I beheld at this particular pit stop…


Imagine an outdoor diner bustling with Indians enjoying their evening meal. I was pointed towards a roofless concrete building the size of your classic Aussie shed, whose walls barely came up to my nose. Of the two “cubicles” inside, the first was clearly a shower or something else as it was empty except for a small puddle in the corner. I decided I’d be more comfortable in the second cubicle anyway as it was further inside the complex, which could make up for the absence of doors. If I was quick, I could squat, throw my paper in the unfortunate plumbing, and leg it. There was, however, no item in this room either… There was a similar puddle in the corner though, funnelling out through a crack in the wall. It took me several painful seconds of doubt and “oh dear God, please no!” before I settled on this peak disrespect of basic human hygiene. I looked around the corner, and down the little concrete hall to check for any encroaching toilet-goers, and then went for it. And as though young, blonde women travelling in India don’t get enough stares, I felt the familiar sense of eyes on me and realised I’d attracted the attention of some old Indian women, and possibly a young boy, who had gathered to have a peep into my cubicle. Inspected in my most vulnerable time, bare-bottomed and in severe bladder distress. Given the choice, I would absolutely rather my boyfriend’s pit-stop experience: being shown to the garbage tip out the back of the diner, and then watched by the bus driver until his stage fright led him to retreat back to the bus awkwardly.


After the horrors were over, I bolted from the smelly scene at full speed, back to the safety of the bus. There is not enough hand sanitizer in the world to restore my cleanliness or dignity.


I can safely say that my appreciation for Australian toilet standards is endless.


Why breaking veganism has made me a happier vegan


There’s still a decent amount of stigma associated with that word.

It’s a much-hyped trend, and causes substantial eye-rolling from parents, doctors, and anyone else sick of the latest restrictive diet.

I was vegan for over a year, and breaking it for a while has proved to be extremely beneficial in adapting to it again for the following reasons:

Firstly, it’s amazingly eye-opening being on the non-vegan side of things.

When you’re part of such an exclusive group, I think it’s easy to become ignorant of what else is going on: how people view you and how you should view others who have made different choices from yours. Experiencing how myself and other animal-product-consumers treat those that have chosen an animal-free way of life made me realise how much of a rift I had created in my own head. Turns out that non-vegans generally are not intolerant to our plant-based buddies or their choices, but are often quite open-minded with curious attitudes towards the lifestyle.

The stereotype is real. And delicious. Thank you “Sexy Food” Cape Town!

On my two-month trip to Africa last year, I made sure to keep my mouth shut as much as possible about my dietary decisions so as not to come across as “ramming it down their throats” (thanks mum, does she realise the pun?), however, due to my awful stereotype-filling at the cafeteria which featured much salad, rice and potatoes on my plate, word got out and I got a lot of questions. By that stage I had existed egg and dairy-free (and nut and wheat-free, but that’s a different story) for over a year and was used to the instantly confused and very defensive responses I usually got from non-vegans, which often included unwarranted excuses for why they themselves couldn’t do that: “I just can’t because of my iron”, “protein is just too important to me” or “but cheeseburgers!” I have literally had a doctor reprimand me for my inconsiderate eradication of a potent source of calcium (before he checked my blood results to see that everything was perfectly fine and I wasn’t at death’s door).

Naturally, the second I stop, everyone I know starts turning vegan or vegetarian or “mindful” of their meat intake (nice timing universe). It’s wonderful that there is such growing acceptance of this and it makes it so much easier to feel supported in the community. So a support network makes all the difference for sure.

Making this vegan oreo cake for a party where most where keen to ditch dairy and choose coconut (eternally grateful that oreos are vegan)
During my break, I realised how easy it is to feel intimidated and judged by someone who is making substantial effort. Somehow after living this very lifestyle for yonks, I can end up feeling defensive myself for why I am not living that way. It can definitely be challenging and I think that can be intimidating to those who have not made a similar choice. Especially in a society where our focus has swung so heavily towards environmental awareness, such a commitment is quite commendable, and I think this may be a potential threat to some egos.

So I’ve absolutely learnt how to go about discussing it, as I’ve now experienced what it feels like to be the non-vegan in the conversation. There is a lot less hate between vegans and non-vegans than I had created in my head.

I think round two will be better practically as well because I have learnt from my mistakes from last time. Making such a big change is not something that should be done instantly, and is certainly not always as easy as it seems. There is a transition period, and having watched several friends go through this period, I can now see how valuable it is to avoid an extreme or yoyo kind of attitude towards it.

The first time I went vegan, it was a snap decision after watching the film “Earthlings”. I had been vegetarian for a year and it was easy to make the switch emotionally. My choice was almost entirely ethically-focused and so was fuelled predominantly by a passionate anger. I was confused, resentful, and absolutely judgmental for many months – of others and myself- and it broke my heart that people I respected for their intellect and caring nature had not come to the same conclusion. This difference in habit affected my relationship with my mum at times. For a while all other values got put on hold and many uncalled for comments like “great, it smells like dead animal in here again” were thrown her way.

A true cafe staple. If you don’t smother your toast in both avocado and Vegemite, are you really Australian?

Combined with my competitive nature, veganism was, in some aspects, a frustrated girl who was seeing how long she could go without touching dairy and trying not to break that perfect streak. Coming back to it a second time is based on logic and productivity. This makes sense to me, and I know it’s doable, gently. The decision is not emotionally-charged, and I’ve realised that “vegan” is not a trait that defines someone. It is simply a lifestyle choice that is easily “broken” – accidentally or otherwise- and it doesn’t mean you’ve failed, that you don’t care about the environment or that you hate animals. Some of the most kind-hearted and loveable people I’ve met can tuck into a cheeseburger like there’s no tomorrow – and that’s ok! I love them for what’s inside and not what’s on their plate.

Helloooo Zambia! That feeling when the only thing you can have is “chips and salad please”…

I also feel like I have a healthier attitude towards dairy and egg products. No they’re not “bad” or “gross”, nor do they make those who consume them “bad” or “gross”. I can put them in my body if I choose to, and it will function just fine.

Having this more rounded view of it means I’m fully able to laugh at veganism, make fun of it and accept it for what it is: a social and environmental movement, dietary fad, and Instagram hashtag. Yes I will embrace the beautifully cringey jokes and memes: “How can you tell if someone’s a vegan? Because they tell you!” Yes I still appreciate the smell of bacon and barbecues and will make sure my friends keep giving me whiffs of their steaks.

Cape Town was MUCH more accomodating…
How many probiotics can we fit in ONE bowl?
If you’re vegan then you are automatically a health addict and automatically are obsessed with quinoa… right?

In round two, I’ve been reminded of how convenient it is that this pretty much cuts out all the junk… Since most overly-processed, plastic-wrapped, sugar-laden, and eight-line-ingredient-list foods are generally inclusive of milk products, it certainly makes eating “whole” unavoidable. I’m not going to say it’s easy all the time though. Not being able to snack on whatever is going can be downright annoying, and cafe-hopping can be a challenge, but being pushed to learn how to cook proper, balanced meals from scratch is never going to be a bad skill.

Vegan ways have opened my eyes to this super easy brekkie: overnight oats. They take 20 seconds to prepare the night before and are YUM

Experimenting with pasta (aka food of the gods) and grilled eggplant. Who says vegan is just boring salads?
That said, it is definitely not a miracle. I come across so many articles about how veganism “fixed” everything. Yes, a lot of things are going to change and hopefully improve if you replace a steady source of slow-to-digest products that are high in saturated fat with whole grains and veggies, but claiming that it makes hair grow more or that it can cure cancer just seems ridiculous. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from this journey so far, it’s that you have to listen to your body. If it seriously craves yoghurt, give it yoghurt. Everyone is different. Maybe veganism will make one person’s nails weak, and another person’s eyes twinkle. Maybe several serves of bacon per day will make someone’s split ends vanish forever. I’ve met people who have quit animal products and their skin has gone crazy! I’m talking acne flare-ups having a field day all day every day…

We all respond differently and at the end of the day aren’t we all just trying to work out what works best for us?

So with a hopefully more realistic and open-minded view of this lifestyle, and more respect for other people’s choices and my health –both body and mind- I embrace round two of this vegan adventure.

Now, where’s that lettuce at…?


What are the first 5 words you associate with “health”?

Today as I was driving home through Sydney’s Northern Beaches, I was considering what the first five words are that I associate with ‘Health’. Using common sense and my own life wisdom so far, I usually consider “healthy” to be synonymous with “happy”, the five words I would normally list as follows:

  1. Mindfulness
  2. Energy
  3. Nourishment
  4. Stability
  5. Self-awareness.

However, after a morning of wandering round various health food stores and conversing with a bestie over the current craze – acai bowls – I landed at the following five:

Organic. Vegan. Antioxidants. Juice. Raw.

Wandering around my favourite Sydney town, Manly

This morning I brunched at Bare Naked Bowls in Manly – a trendy, local hotspot for beachy health-lovers (so much so it needed recent renovations to triple the kitchen size). Sitting in this beloved café of mine, it dawned on me that young, white women dominated the demographic of customers. We had all paid our $15 for our organised arrangement of fruit and were chatting away in plant-based indulgence.

As a vegan and passionate member of the yogi tribe, cafes like this get me jumping, but are we all just making a delightful fuss about a smoothie in a bowl? Have we got so carried away overthinking what should be organic to our bodies that we’ve forgotten to listen to our bodies? What does “organic” mean to consumers these days anyway? Do acai bowl devotees know what antioxidants do and why they are considered valuable? I’ve begun to realise that the current social attitude towards health often seems to be based on buzzwords that people may or may not understand.

Health-food aisles are stocked with words like “paleo”, “whole” and “clean”. Is the rest of the food out there unclean? Am I going to drop dead if my soy has been genetically modified? The vegan staple of coconut oil is now worth its weight in gold, even though it is 94% saturated fat (that fat we’ve been taught to avoid like the plague – the same fat the vegan diet boasts about avoiding due to no nasty animal fats). Do customers see an “insert word here – free” product and instantly assume it is going to be beneficial to their bodies? It’s similar to the “ancient grain” movement, or virtually any food that originated in South America thousands of years ago. Since the uprise of these “superfoods”, it seems impossible now to walk through a health-conscious community without being ambushed by the sound of cutlery scraping through quinoa salad or food smothered in avocado, chia, or the latest rediscovered Incan berry.

Organising my “superfoods” into the other great trend at the moment… jars

As a medical science graduate, I am well aware that the physical aspects of health are largely based on factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol level, metabolism, vitamin concentration and a general absence of disease, and while fruits and seeds are hardly bad for you in a conventional sense, current café culture and social media seem to have a different focus.


When did health become a hashtag on Instagram? When did it stop becoming about eating and doing what you felt like, and turn into eating and moving in accordance with what works for someone else, or to a set of circumstances that applied to generations long before us? We are told of the way our ancestors moved and ate, and that we should follow that. If it’s all about descendants and evolution, then my descendants will surely evolve to be toothless, as so much of the “health” food I’m exposed to is blended and sipped through a straw, requiring zero chewing.

Acai bowls have even made their way into my home…

I’ve done the juice cleanses. I’ve eliminated all animal products. I’ve lived with a wheat allergy for three years (so am all too familiar with the gluten-free cult), and taken a stab at the raw food movement. Sure there is ample evidence of beneficial results when cutting out added sugar completely, but maybe such restrictive approaches to food aren’t setting up a good or realistic mindset for what “being healthy” actually means. It certainly feels like a first-world luxury to choose to ditch so many universal staples, and instead reach for an acai bowl, cold-pressed juice, or on-tap kombucha.

Yes, there is kombucha on tap

Perhaps health extends further than the degree of genetic modification that’s on our plates. Perhaps it needs to be considered more how we feel. Inside and out. Holistically. Maybe we should be making equal fuss about the quality of our sleep, social support system, and, maybe more importantly, the way we value ourselves.