Monday, April 2, 2012

Lessons Learned The Hard Way: Two people can inadvertently shut down an entire island's plumbing system

During the summer of 1998, my mom, dad, grandmother, and I took a trip to Greece. Visiting somewhere overseas is usually an adventure in and of itself, but this vacation would also be a chance for me to meet family members I'd never seen before.  

We traveled to different areas throughout the country of my ancestors, including a long stay on the island of Naxos, where much of my father's side of the family originated.   

Our first stop, however, was in Athens. After a few days in the city, I noticed some striking differences from the American culture that I was accustomed to: 

1. Every day's front page news story was about a conflict with the country of Turkey. I thought something big was about to go down until I talked to some relatives about it. Apparently, the long standing hatred between the Greeks and the Turks dominates the Mediterranean news cycle like a missing blond haired girl does in the United States.

2. Nudity was not a big deal to these people. It's quite jarring to open a phone book or magazine and come across ads with naked people in them. I'd like to sound all refined and worldly and claim I got used to it, but I never did.

3. Due to water shortages in the summer, toilet paper is not supposed to be thrown in the bowl and flushed. Instead, you are supposed to throw it in a basket that sits next to the toilet.

No matter how pretty you try to make it look, 
that's still a bucket full of paper with dried poop stuck to it.

For my mother and I, this was the most significant departure from how we were used to doing things. Never the less, we were happy to oblige by our host country's rules and dispose of our used toilet paper as requested. There was just one problem:

We couldn't poop.

To this day my mother and I are unsure how or why it happened, but we both developed the most severe cases of constipation that either one of us has ever experienced. After one day, Mom and I were a bit surprised that neither one of us had partaken in a bowel movement (yes, we talk about these types of things). By Day 4, we became concerned...and very bloated.

To make matters worse, we were being fed by Greek relatives, who are convinced that one of the best ways to show love and affection is to continuously cook for you. The food was delicious, but the backlog in our large intestines was getting worse.


"How do you have room to hold all of it?!" my father exclaimed. It was Day 6 and my mother and I had still not given birth to our food babies yet. We honestly had no idea what the answer was. But on Day 7, my large intestine finally (and boldly) declared "THIS ENDS NOW!"

"THIS! 17 helpings of THIS is still inside of me and it's coming out tonight!"

My family and I boarded a small boat and visited one of the islands close to Naxos. I had once again indulged in all manners of delicious Greek food, wandered about with my family, and despite feeling incredibly bloated, seemed to be doing just fine.

As we boarded the ferry to go back home, I felt something inside me break, come loose, and begin rushing towards the exit. As a final act of revenge, my body had waited until we were on a cramped water vessel in the middle of the Mediterranean to purge itself of 7 days worth of waste.

I immediately got up and ran to the nearest bathroom, which thankfully was unoccupied. But despite the seemingly urgent nature of this bowel movement, I experienced a small and very painful delay. Whether it was my body forgetting how to do something it normally did twice (or more) a day, or the sheer amount of waste trying to pass through me, the feeling was severely unpleasant.

Pretty much like this, right down to my embarrassing decision to wear jean shorts.

Minutes later, however, the eagle had finally (and mercifully) landed. After what must have registered as a seismic ocean tremor to any nearby radar stations, my gastrointestinal system was finally on its way back towards normalcy. My mother's stomach held out for 3 more days until she too began freeing herself from the shackles of backlogged waste.

Now you probably have connected a few dots and deduced that my mother and I clogged the Naxos plumbing system with excessive amounts of pooping. But as hilarious as that would have been, it's not exactly what happened.

Yes, once my mother and I reached Naxos, we did in fact go on a massive bowel movement bonanza. Being unfamiliar with the land that we were in, we were unable to stray too far from a toilet for the first 24 hours of our respective purgings. Even after we regained full control over our faculties, Mom and I were both dropping deuces at an exponentially higher rate than normal.

We were also using a lot of toilet paper...and had completely forgotten the warning we received upon our arrival in Greece. We were throwing what was easily the most amount of toilet paper we'd ever used during our lifetimes straight into the toilet bowl.

"I should've had a few more days to live, you thoughtless monster!"

On our last day in Greece, I hugged my newly discovered family goodbye and bid a sad farewell to the kids in the village, who I had made fast friends with despite our language barrier (and the fact that they could all destroy me in soccer).

As my family headed out of the house we had been staying in, we noticed that people were coming out of their homes with exasperated and confused looks on their faces. As the entire village began to talk to each other all at once, we asked Dad, who is still fluent in Greek, to translate.

"They're saying that the plumbing in everyone's house has completely shut's not just happening here, but all over the island...someone had to have been flushing a huge amount of paper down the toilet."

It suddenly dawned on my mother and me that we had forgotten about throwing our toilet paper into the decorative baskets. We stepped back towards the house, watching the entire village speaking to each other in frustrated tones, and quietly surveyed the havoc which we had wrought.

"Nicholas," Mom whispered, "I think we shut down the entire plumbing system of Naxos."

Like the responsible adults that we are, Mom and I said nothing about our misdeed as we departed the island. We made our way to Athens, got on a plane, and flew back to the United States. Soon we were back in the land of pundit driven news cycles, fast food, full clothed advertisements, and throwing our toilet paper in the crapper like God intended.

We haven't been back to Greece since then, but to our family's credit, they laughed when we told them the story. The family members that still live in Greece often ask when we'll be back. I hope it's one day soon.

And this time, we promise to 
remember the rules for the toilet paper.

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