Sunday, December 13, 2009

Private Things - - Rated “R”

Now that I have gotten your attention with the picture and the “catchy” title of this blog, I will explain something that no one in the Peace Corps fully explained until we got here!
The photo at the beginning of this blog is a picture of the toilet at our training center during the first ten weeks we were here. It is called a “Turkish toilet”. I assume it is called that because during the 500 years of Turkish rule, this is what Bulgarians used! By the way, this is a “co-ed” bathroom.
So.. for a guy taking a “leak”, this is not a problem. But ladies must squat – no matter what! Our training center toilet was actually comparatively clean. However, it was not without some problems. Our training building had two floors. The second floor bathroom was directly over the one we used on the first floor. If you were using the first floor bath, and someone flushed (yes – you can flush them) upstairs, the pipes would leak and droplets would start dripping on you. When the drops started falling, you would always speed up (or try to stop) whatever you were doing. It only took a couple of days for all the ladies in the training group to only use the second floor toilet.
One other thing about the first picture is important. You will notice there is a small wastebasket near “the hole”. There is generally nothing unusual about having a wastebasket in the bathroom. But ALL of the toilets (Turkish or Western) have a small waste canister near them. In Bulgaria toilet paper is NEVER put into the toilet! You wipe yourself—stop the automatic reflex to drop it into the toilet, pull the paper out, and put into the convenient, nearby waste container. I really don’t know why! I have not asked! I just do it - - because that is what everyone does in Bulgaria!
Although all of the public toilets in Bulgaria are Turkish, many homes have western style toilets. Following is a picture of the toilet in our home. It is probably more recognizable.

Some of you may be wondering where the shower (and curtain) is located. Well – the entire bathroom also doubles as the shower. We close the bathroom door and turn on the shower. There is a drain in the center of the floor. Although it is a little inconvenient, ( you have to mop the floor after a shower, and the floor may be wet for several hours after a shower), it is really a very efficient system. But, it is very different from the large, plush, multiple bathrooms found in US homes. In Bulgaria, functionality trumps pampering, pleasure, special features, and large baths.

Following are some photos of the men's bathroom in my office building.

Notice the plumping (or lack of it) in all the sinks.

The urinals are not functional. Except for one pipe that perpetually drips water onto the floor. It is kind of like an eternal flame, but this is a perpetual drip. I’m really not sure when it gets cleaned, but it is at least once per month.

The door is off the hinges, and there is a broken window next to the door (this helps keep the room cool in the winter, and allows “fresh” air to constantly flow in).
Early in November, the fire department inspected our building. Trash and the piles of papers which were in the empty offices were tossed out. My bathroom got a new door - - with a lock! A couple of days later, they locked the door, and put a “CLOSED” sign on the door!
Lynn’s situation is similar. There are 25 teachers, and approximately 500 kids (grades K-4) in the building. The teachers share the Turkish toilets with the kids.
Using Turkish toilets can force some “behavioral” changes. First you have to strengthen your quad muscles in order to use the toilets. Second – there is an art to doing this without soiling your clothes (I have not figured this out yet!). Third – you try to be much more “regular” so you use them as little as possible. Fourth – you have to be very careful about what is in your pockets. Each year several volunteers have their cell phones, wallets, money, or ID’s eaten by the “terrible Turkish toilet”. Fifth – After a short time in Bulgaria, everyone is more comfortable talking about things like this.
All of this quickly blurs into the daily fabric of life in Bulgaria. Soon you are not even noticing the toilet - - - until your cell phone slips into “the hole”!



Anonymous said...

I remember my first encounter with these in the airport in Abu Dhabi.

At least at the airport they were relatively well maintained and there was the western toilet option although that wasn't always the case.

Anonymous said...

Much more than I needed to know....BUT I read it to the end!!!!

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I found myself smiling but I'm sure its not funny. hehe


Anonymous said...

The reason for putting the paper in the basket is out of habit. If you have normal TP go ahead and put it in the hole. Back in the day there was no TP, people used all sorts of other paper, popular being the newspaper. That kind of paper does not dissolve very fast and you and up with a clogged toilet.