In the face of a potential quarantine, people are understandably worried and trying their best to be prepared. I find it comical, and sad, however, that running out of toilet paper is the idea that worries folks in our country most. As if, they could survive without food, but not without toilet paper?
When I lived with a host family in Azerbaijan, there was no toilet paper. I learned to adapt, although yes, I never quite got over the aversion to wiping my butt of #2 with my own hand. It did wash off, however, and it made the custom of only eating with, and handing something to others with the right hand make more sense. When I lived alone in that country for several months, I made it a whole season on a single roll of TP, my previous host father’s “If we paid for napkins, then we wouldn’t be able to pay for food!” in my head (and me striving for cultural adaptation).
It looks like the coronavirus is going to be affecting people across the globe, across very different ways of life. The way people prepare, if they are able to prepare at all, is also most certainly different. My friend and teaching colleague in Togo earlier this week urged her contacts not to buy or handle used clothing, as it might have come from an infected person in Europe (and the Europeans, she implied, don’t care about spreading their illness to the Africans). I don’t think my colleague or her community use toilet paper. That would be viewed as a nonessential. Something for rich people. But here in the US, somehow, what is inessential to much of the world appears as a top essential. Could this be a reflection of how out of touch we are with what is truly essential?