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Life Without Toilet Paper

What would you do if all the Stores in San Pedro ran out of toilet paper? There are things that if you had never had them, you never miss them. The refrigerator and electric or butane stoves are good examples of things never missed twenty- five years ago. However, you will open your eyes wide to learn of a few things people never dreamed of in the 1950’s and you would wonder how they managed.

NO TOILET PAPER- that’s right, no sanitary tissue. How could folks live without? Well, there must have been substitutes. Newspaper was the number one substitute. Properly crumbled it became soft and workable and easy to the tender parts. But bear in mind that newspapers were not readily available either. Second in line of preference were exercise books and magazines. Again, properly crumbled, it was made pliable and soft. Some magazines had the glossy finish which made it tough, so that presented a peculiar problem, but in the end it worked. On the way to the public latrines over at the lagoon, some guys picked up tin cans and removed the paper labels; again properly crumbled it was sort of soft enough as a toilet paper substitute. Now on occasions of diarrhea, a special tissue was needed, so mom would cut up pieces of old clothes and made an extra soft tissue.

You might be asking what about girls? Hey same difference! They crumbled up the paper bags that were used in stores to sell flour and sugar, etc. Cloth cut up in squares was placed in the outdoor latrine. What about babies? Aha, they were very special. The same edge of the cloth diapers was used. These re-usable diapers, of course, were washed thoroughly and put out in the sun to dry and bleach.

Now, don’t laugh. Men in the bush working coconuts or lobster traps were never caught unprepared. No, they did not carry newspapers with them but, listen to this; they pulled off the cloth-like material surrounding the coconut trees just below the palms. This tissue was tough, but it was crumbled and made soft and pliable and used as a toilet paper substitute. You know, I laugh when I hear stories of people in the villages of Orange Walk who tell me that they used the corn cob to do this necessity. Yes, the corn cob! I laugh but I understand.

Hey, why this unpleasant topic? The point is that when you have never had something, you don’t or can’t miss it. People learn to utilize simple things when they have to. I have seen carpenters cut long pieces of board (2″X 12″X 20 feet) to be used as a step using a hand saw. And people used to dry the skin of a certain ray and used it as sandpaper. Pumblestone found on the beaches was used to remove the callous off the feet and to clean dirty frying pans. And yes, I have used my sister’s and mom’s discarded clothing as towels. Yes, indeed 25 years ago was all about improvisation and substitutes. Such was life in a humble village twenty five years ago. What would you do if all he stores ran out of toilet paper today?

– by Angel Nuñez, Columnist

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