Tea and Toilets

By GIRLWITHABOOK Board Member, Jennifer Ciochon

When I think of Kyrgyzstan, I think of the incredible hospitality of people, the epic mountainous landscapes, tea with raspberry jam (try it, it is life changing), and then the freezing outhouses, with the latter two going hand in hand.

An intrinsic part of Kyrgyz hospitality is to offer their guests tea. A lot of tea. Poor Lena, she hated it. I love tea but even my stomach could not keep up with the copious amounts of tea that were offered. Every host made sure that our tea cups were never empty.

But of course, what goes in must come out. And then came the dilemma. It was freezing and the villages we were in didn’t have plumbing. So that meant the outhouse. Did I mention it was freezing?

It got to be a running joke among us. Oh how we missed our porcelain thrones (aka indoor toilets). Naturally we would try to avoid using the outhouses as much as we could. It’s not that we couldn’t handle squatting. We have all had our fair share of using squatter toilets. It was the cold.

We would laugh about the dilemma every time: accept the endless tea being offered and face the freezing consequences (or just hold it until we made it back to our hotel after an hour long trip on rocky unpaved roads to our hotel… if that was even an option), or offend our hosts by refusing tea. Obviously we drank the tea.

Of course I totally expected to use squatter toilets throughout this trip. But I admit I was a bit taken aback by the lack of infrastructure for plumbing and sewage in most of the towns and villages we visited in Kyrgyzstan, which meant almost every house (regardless of their income) had their toilet (or dirt hole) in a wooden shack outside. Even in some of the rural parts of India that I have been to, the squatter toilets were connected to some kind of sewage line.

One village we stayed in while in Naryn province, no one had indoor toilets. The school for the village, funnily enough, did have taps for water inside. But the toilets were cement slabs in the ground off to the side of the school (no wooden doors either, just had to hope no one would walk around the corner). But the school was expanding, and they were planning for their new building to have indoor toilets! The first in the whole village!

We certainly had our laughs about it (usually seeing our faces after we come out from the outhouse). But one family we met reminded us of its difficulty even for the local population. Of course for most people, these outhouses are just a part of life, it is what they are used to. But for Adinai, this one girl with cerebral palsy living with her grandmother (after her parents abandoned her), using those outhouses - especially in the winter time - is almost impossible. That is why her grandmother sends Adinai to the capital Bishkek to stay with relatives who have real toilets that are easier for her to use.

Adinai and her grandmother in their little corner shop.

Adinai and her grandmother in their little corner shop.

After every trip where I spent considerable time with squatter toilets and outhouses, it really does make me grateful for my constant access to “porcelain thrones.” But I realize how quickly I forget and take for granted this luxury we all have. But this time I am trying not to forget. To carry with me and to remember the experiences of the people we met along this incredible journey we went on.