Looking out the window of the airplane that brought me to Kyiv I was surprised how small its airport was as we taxied up to the terminal. It sure wasn’t built for the comfort of the passenger in mind because of all the steps you have to walk up and down after being off loaded at the terminal door to pass through border and custom control.
My first trip into the city of Kyiv from the airport has left many indelible impressions. I had traveled half way around the world and what I was seeing for the first time didn’t surprise me. I sense a little apprehension coming from the lady I had just met for the first time after all the years we had been corresponding. The cab pulled up in front of a sterile looking building and we got out. When she unlocked the door and I walked inside for the first time it was an entirely different world, a world where I felt at home, and a place where I belonged. Her home was so different from all the pictures my mind captured coming into the city.
Arriving in Ukraine was like taking a step back in time to my youth. I saw similarities that should have been out of place in a city of some 3 million plus people who live in the nation’s capital. However, one such fetish seemed to come up over and over again. I soon became fixated on its toilet culture. At first I didn’t give it much thought because the flat of my future wife was modern in every way, right down to its toilet.
I grew up on the farm without running water until I was 12. Behind our farmhouse we had a two seated out house where we used old Sears and Roebucks catalogues and newspapers as toilet paper. You might say I am a pioneer accustom to the old way of living and later discovered the joys of soft toilet paper when the folks drilled a well and modernity came to our large two story farmhouse.
During my first journey into the heart of the Kyiv’s underground mall I received my first introduction to the joys of a Ukrainian public toilet. What started out as a routine event quickly turned into an adventure without any equal. I noticed a familiar barnyard odor, an odor you don’t ever forget, however, this one was coming from a public toilet in a modern mall. As I walked down the passageway leading into the bathroom my eyes began to tear up and my nose began to run. To my utter amazement I saw four sets of steps leading to four separate stalls with doors.
This was something new, so I walked up steps to the nearest one and opened the door. I had found the source of the odor and looking down at my feet I saw a white basin with a hole in the floor. Wow, we didn’t have anything like this in Montana! Our out house was crude, but this was something else. I had seen pictures of such things, but I thought these were used only in Japan and China.
I continued to survey the situation and practiced the many ways to best use it. I could stand over it or turn around and squat over it like in the forest until my sense of smell and tearing of my eyes had reached a point of no return, as was my tummy. I was beginning to feel nauseated. I quickly balanced myself and squatted over the hole. Okay, so far so good. My joy was short lived when I couldn’t find any toilet paper. This was a major problem. What to do? Ah, the humiliation that comes from such an experience. I would have given anything to have had a Sears and Roebucks catalog at that moment. I was desperate and all I could think of was my shorts to use. I stood up and removed my pants to take off my shorts. After I deposited my underwear in a trash can I went outside to meet my friend in the hall to tell her my experience. Without so much as a smile she simply said, “We always carry some toilet paper with us.” It didn’t occur to me that I needed to.
It is amazing how you don’t ever take toilet paper for granted after an incident like this or for that matter having to use outdoor public facilities that people are forced to use in spite of their unsanitary conditions. Thanks to McDonalds many public restrooms are now more sanitary and have toilet paper.
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