Reflections from a Toilet
Updated: Jan 24
As I sit in my bed, I contemplate what I should write about for my first blog post. Do I expand on my experiences that I have already expelled into my journal? Do I write about the inspiring and lovely people we have met in just a mere 2 weeks? Or do I expose myself on what’s currently happening to me and my toilet? Naturally, I will choose the later. Disclaimer: I’m unwell – as are many of this year’s GCIL students – most likely due to some knock-off egg taco bell burrito that haunts me in my sleep. We have a fun assortment of discomforts due to these demonic imposer taquitos, from vomiting, to diarrhea, or, if you are lucky, both!
Oh, maybe I should have said this earlier, but if you are reading this then you are experiencing the true value of the GCIL family – welcome!
Between eating half a banana and maybe 10 grains of rice for dinner, I thought of the pain going on in my stomach, only to be offered Emergen-C, Airborne, a sleeping bag or really anything to offset my mind. Back home, I would have my mom catering to my every need from making home-cooked soup, bringing me electrolytes on the hour, or extra blankets as my fever continues to spike. But here, I combat this on my own – except not really. I have 27 caring, hilarious newfound family members to support me.
As I take another bite of my banana (the same one from dinner, I haven’t gotten very far), I can only think of the women who are not as lucky as me to experience a support system even when I am 8,080 miles away from home. Today we learned about the caste structure and its role on the sanitation system in India, an excruciatingly telling synopsis of the complex social situation in this country. While the Dalit class is required to hand remove other people’s waste, women are forced to do this while being underpaid and disguised – simply to prevent violence and embarrassment. Being born into the Dalit caste wasn’t their choice, and cleaning out latrines wasn’t their pick of job either, but it’s the only thing they could do to support themselves and their families.
The tragedies don’t stop there: countless women have died from menstruation as it taboo here and are willingly shunned away due to lack of menstrual education. Sadly, 23 million women are dropping out of school at the beginning of menstruation and only 21% of women were aware of sanitary menstruation practices (1). The correlation between menstruation and being “dirty” is disheartening and a complete abuse of human rights. Just yesterday, I saw male kindergartners hugging a female kindergartner – when does this inequality begin? Is this a preventable mindset? When will women truly be seen as humans?
Again, I take another bite of my banana, drink my distasteful, diluted Emergen-C and I reflect on the cushy bubble that I grew up in in Chicago, the continuation of security as I moved to Seattle for college, only to ponder the stark difference in India. Suddenly my complaints of hour-long diarrhea and fainting, seem so small compared to native Indian women. When Julian said this would be bootcamp, we all snickered. But maybe rather than it being a physical bootcamp, it is a mental, emotional, and spiritual bootcamp – pushing us to grow outside of our comfort zones – and, if we are lucky, allowing us to take some appreciation home with us of the lessons taught both in the classroom, in the field, and on the toilet.
1) Dutta, S. (2018) “23 Million Women Drop Out of School Every Year When They Start Menstruating in India”, SwacchIndia. Available at: https://swachhindia.ndtv.com/23-million-women-drop-out-of-school-every-year-when-they-start-menstruating-in-india-17838/
Students at Parkrma School, Parikrma Humanity Foundation, India.