Let me just state the obvious here and say that Peace Corps is not known for sending volunteers to countries with modern amenities such as indoor toilets and/or running water. In some postings volunteers are lucky to have anything other than a hole in the ground. While every interviewee says they would be delighted to dodge vipers and hyenas to use the non-existent “facilities” in the middle of the moonless night, every interviewee also secretly dreads drawing the unlucky loo card.
Which brings me to Armenia. In many ways Armenia is far posher than many postings. We have fairly dependable internet, reasonably good Soviet-era roads, electricity and running water most of the time, and refrigeration. Usually.
But when it comes to toilets, it’s still a crap shoot. (Come on, you know I had to say it.)
Of the 42 PCTs spread out in four villages around the Ararat region, the facilities in the host homes range from Western-style toilets to Asian-style squat toilets and even Asian-style squat outhouses. There are at least two volunteers with such not-so-fresh air facilities. Fortunately for me, my host family has a nice modern set up. Close the door and you could almost be back home.
Most public buildings here, including schools, still favor the squat toilet. For volunteers these present two challenges: how to use them without splashing, and how to use them while battling the inevitable newcomer’s diarrhea. Oh, and you can’t put toilet paper down any of the toilets here or they will clog, and that’s a conversation you don’t want to attempt in broken Armenian. There is a small waste can provided for used paper disposal. And yes, there is toilet paper, although it looks more like layers of cardboard than the downy white product we spoiled Westerners are used to.
Squat toilets do have their advantages, once one masters the art of hovering properly over the hole. Hint: face the stall door (or where one would be) just as if you were sitting on a toilet. It’s the same shape. With squat toilets there are no body parts making contact with surfaces of questionable cleanliness, which can be a huge plus. Citizens of many countries consider “sit-down” toilets to be barbaric and filthy, and in some places this is very true. All a matter of perspective.
In the once-grand culture center where we hold our daily four hour-long language lessons, there are only squat toilets (see pictures above). After our instructor got firm with the cleaning lady, they are now cleaned on a fairly regular basis. I think. I live a block away so I’ve gotten good at waiting it out.
We recently visited a village school to observe a PCV teaching, and were told that the school had NO, that’s right, NO toilet facilities — but if need be the volunteer’s house was nearby. Suddenly, a squat toilet didn’t sound that bad…