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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Central Asian Toilets

Reading Colin Thubron's 'Shadow of the Silk Road' (more on that later), his description of his trip to Talas in western Kyrgyzstan reminds me of my peak, or pinnacle, experience of Central Asian toilets. (You should not be having your breakfast beside your computer anyway!).

I don't think time has made any difference to Central Asian toilets, since I experienced similar conditions in the Kyrgyz ministry 10 years ago to those in the Tajik ministry this year. Kyrgyzstan was my first posting in the former Soviet Union and I knew nothing! The toilets in the ministry usually lacked water. The diet in Central Asia is particularly high on fibre, it would appear. The combination of both was not an incentive for anyone to clean the toilets. One set of women's toilets in the ministry was less awful than the others, until we got a female minister who annexed them to her room. For a while we had to use the men's toilets. Given that there were no doors we always had to go in twos and post a look-out. Once I had to prevent a friend with a floor length fake fur coat (did I mention that there was little heating in the winter?) from taking that coat in - it would have been bugged for life!

10 years on in Tajikistan; ministry still cold in the winter. The ladies' toilet at street level had a large office-sized window towards the street; it had no glass. Luckily there was a bit of a wall which the user could hide behind. Yes, there was water in the toilet (room); it trickled gently out of rusty pipes through the wall, for most of the two years I worked there. There was a dribble of water in the toilet cistern, and inevitably much water on the floor. I would like to call it clean water, but water in Tajikistan is bacteriologically rather rich. Progress, eh?

Anyway, returning to the toilet in Talas. Talas is the region of birth of Chingiz Aitmatov, the foremost Kyrgyz author who has written some amazing books (best not discussed in this context). The Talas Intourist Hotel was the one which had no heating or electricity that winter, so it was early nights for all. It was only when using an outdoor toilet (a wee wooden hut over a pit) in January that I realised the pitfalls (groan...) of such 'plumbing'..... When it gets very cold, liquids and things freeze....little warm additions are not enough to thaw the whole lot..so things pile up....Do you remember the sugar cones one could buy? Only the cone just beginning to poke out of the pit was not made of sugar....

3 comments:

varske said...

Gross. Even I have not stooped to Ukrainian toilet postings. Your recommendation is up on Afoe.

act of kindness said...

OH let me tell you Varske , The Ukrainian toilets are fit for a queen compared to Kyrgies toilets. I am a bit of a prude, and am one of those people who has a hard time using toilets in public, but found myself bolting from a toilet with my pants around my ancles chooseing to finish out in the open for the world to see. I now know where just about every flush toilet is in Kyrgyzstan is !

violainvilnius said...

Indeed, one could go on and on about Kyrgyz toilets....like the time we stayed in a yurt camp in the mountains; the toilets were those holes in a concrete floor in a building without light; no doors anywhere, of course. Great to use in the middle of the night - especially since in the dark you also had to negotiate your way past the horses 'parked' in the same camp....

but I won't go on....then again, I will...

One time in Lithuania, together with some colleagues from the UK, we visited a local government somewhere. It had those squatting toilets, but with doors and reasonably clean. My two sensitive ladies took one look and said - we can't use that! So off we set on the 3 hour trip to the coast. The inevitable happened and they had to use a bus station toilet. We all know what they can be like. Served them right!