Happy Thursday! I trust all of you are doing well!
For this time, I decided to take a break from our normal updates of cute baby pictures and fun games of ‘Where in the world are they now?’ to share a bit of a cultural moment with you from my travels to Kazakhstan.
If you recall previously, I spent some time discussing various parts of the culture, including holiday celebrations and local food. Today, I’m going to discuss something a little more… indelicate. Today, I’m going to discuss the thing that always struck me as one of the weirdest experiences and one I never got used to… the bathroom.
NOTE: For those of you with sensitive constitutions, feel free to skip to the cute baby photo at the end!
My first experience with the Kazakh bathroom was on my first visit to Tengiz. This involves a long, rather boring four hour ride through the steppe.
The Kazakh steppe – your view for hours
The view pretty much remains the same the entire way. I try to sleep or watch movies on the iPad to pass the time, but during this trip, there is one rest stop along the way. This is not the lovely Buc ee’s rest stop with restrooms inside a nice clean place where you can buy sodas and snacks on your way out. Nay nay… you’re greeted by this beauty!
His and Hers – a room with a view!
That’s right… a good ol’ fashioned outhouse! I’m not kidding you when I tell you that there was a ‘his’ and ‘hers’ set of outhouses. I took a picture of only this side for two reasons. Firstly, there are no doors on this outhouse, so while you’re doing your business, you’re exposed to the world. Secondly, there was no toilet paper there, so you can only imagine what it looked (and smelled!) like. I’ve had the displeasure of experiencing the freezing conditions during winter and the baking sun in the summer. Generally, you’re reduced to standing outside the outhouse by about a foot to avoid the smell or the ice. It’s not something I’ll forget any time soon.
There was another very similar rest stop on the other side of the road, but the building you see was locked and only the transport for the client personnel had the key.
Once you get to site, which is shared by predominantly Kazakhs, Turks, and westerners, you’re greeted by a two wholly different types of toilets… each with their own hazards. The first one you come across is the restroom for the crews.
That’s right… it’s a hole in the ground with places to stand on either side. First off, these toilets are contained in a converted shipping container. These are not temperature controlled, which means the building is baking the smell of the place in the summer and the pipes on the outside would have tendency to freeze and back up in the winter. Additionally, since you’re wearing several layers of clothing, there’s a certain amount of undressing you have to do in order to prepare yourself for business. Quite simply, unless I really, really, REALLY had to go, I gave this option a miss. It was too much for my delicate, western constitution.
The second option was similar to the western throne (the one God intended).
I say similar, because it too came with its own peculiarities. First off, the room was in yet another shipping container, but it was a small room with only three toilets. Secondly, if you look closely, someone fashioned a makeshift bidet out of instrument tubing. At least someone had made an effort to prevent freezing of the pipes by taping exposed heat tracing tape to the pipes. Thirdly, as Kazakhstan has a significant Muslim population, you would find this small bathroom crammed with people cleaning themselves head to toe for daily prayers. After a very short time there, you learned when you could realistically take care of business and when you would be affected by prayers preparation, closing for cleaning, or simply post-lunch crowds (the food wasn’t always the best…).
Lastly, there were signs in three languages reminding you to flush the toilet, another asking you to please throw used paper in the trash cans because the toilets weren’t man enough to handle toilet paper in toilet, and sometimes signs explaining how you can tell if you were not drinking enough water.
There was another, as it turns out, very important sign as well.
The reason for this sign was because very often the crew would come in and use the sitting toilet as a squat toilet. This would mean work boot prints on the seat and often people missing.
However, the sign was most important for the safety hazard it inadvertently warned against. The seats were flimsy and would often break. I say this sign was important to safety because I experienced one time where it was not heeded. Picture this… early winter morning… crispness in the air due to the -20o weather, and I’ve got to take care of business. I go to sit down, and then it happened. I was viciously attacked by the toilet seat! Someone had stood on it and cracked the back of the seat. Whenever I sat down on it, the toilet seat pinched me in a very delicate area. The toilet seat took a bite out of my ass, and I was bleeding! I don’t know how long it took to get it to stop bleeding, but it seemed like forever. Now, you might be asking yourself why didn’t I get a Band-Aid? Well, it’s very simple. If you need to get a Band-Aid, you have to visit the Health, Safety, and Environmental officer that controlled them. You have to go and explain then FILL OUT A REPORT to be circulated to a larger audience. Random people would then come up to me and be like, ‘You were the one weren’t you?’ I would be the butt (pun intended) of I am sure an endless string of jokes. There was no way I was going to go have my name on a report of a wild toilet seat attack! Needless to say, I was gun-shy of the toilet for a while after that…
Well, there you are… a little bit of Kazakh culture the tour books wouldn’t tell you about. However, I won’t leave you on that note. Instead, here’s a video of Earl walking!
We hope you’re doing well, and we look forward to catching up with you soon!
Derek, Libby, Duke, and Earl