Across Continents

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Toilet tips


On the train from Atyrau to Kyzylorda there was invariably a wait for the squat toilet at the end of the carriage. But not for the Western style porcelain affair at the other end. I seemed to be the only user, discretely placing a small tear in the roll of unusually soft toilet paper to see if anyone else made use of it. It appeared not.

Squat toilets aren’t anything new on this expedition, commonplace in France and again in the old Eastern Bloc countries, Turkey and the Caucasus. Definitely never been my first choice of lavatory, so why their popularity? I suspect the answer is the very reason, ironically, I’m not a huge fan. Hygiene. Except for where you put your feet, no contact with where someone else has been before you. Provided you can cope with the squatting position, anatomically probably quite good, doesn’t sound such a bad idea. Except that some designs are susceptible to being blocked by paper, so you have to pop that in an adjacent bin.

Out in the villages, in more remote places, it’s the pit toilet. Same idea as the squat type, but without the water flush. Filling, if the guide books are to be believed, Western travellers with absolute dread, especially in hot climates. Bit harsh? I think so. For one thing, local people have used them for centuries, and I don’t suppose the old outside toilet down the end of an English garden was that much more attractive. No, like most things, some are truly terrible, many are not. Just like the Western style ones.

And what, you may ask, is a decent pit toilet? A stone built building helps keep the inside cool, less fragrant. Small windows, without glass, also help the air inside from getting stuffy, especially in hot climates. And, if all is working properly, natural biological processes render human waste relatively odourless. Which means no dropping paper into the pit. That normally goes into a metal receptacle for burning.


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