Thursday, May 28, 2009

What it looks like!

Zdraveytey, everybody!

It’s time for a proper update concerning Bulgaria. As I said last time, this has been the longest and hardest (laugh it up) week I’ve ever had. At the same time, I’ve never had such a fulfilling experience. I was going to talk about my four days in Paris but instead I want to tell you all about my training site, Amsterdam, first.

Amsterdam is a small village at the north end of the country. There are only about 1200 people here and most of them are on the older side of the spectrum. When I say most of them, one of the saddest things about Amsterdam is that the local school is closing after this summer because there are only about 17 or so registered school-age residents in the town. All of the young people leave the town when they get the chance so it would be safe to say that this is an aging and declining population. Regardless, this is one of the most beautiful towns I have ever visited. Almost everyone here has their own garden in which they grow their own fruits and vegetables. Everyone also has their own collection of farm animals. My host family, for instance, has a chicken pen with about 30-40 chickens of all ages. Also, Amsterdam is only one of two towns where the PC stationed 3 trainee volunteers.

Now I’m not sure if I can give names but I can tell you about the people I’m staying with. I live with a host mother and her son. Let’s call them Agnes and Seymour. Like the place names, these names are not descriptive of the people except perhaps the relationship. Seymour teaches priests in the city closest to here, our HUB city Venice. Agnes grows tomatoes, cucumbers, cherries and has her own vineyard from which she makes her own wine.

While I’m on the subject of alcohol, let me talk about the local moonshine. Each house that grows fruit will have their own version of the moonshine, Rakia. To quote one of the trainers back in Paris, “It’s about 75-80% alcohol and it goes down like firewater.” That sentence is 100% correct. Just smelling the Rakia will make you want to pass out. That being said, my meal a couple nights ago was a delicious salad made from cucumbers, tomatoes, green onions and radishes (I suspect that they were all grown right here) with a salt, apple vinegar and vegetable oil dressing, a chicken dish with chopped up potatoes and leg quarters. As for the alcohol I set up but forgot to mention, it was about half a shot of Rakia and a glass of red wine mixed with lemonade. I got a little drunk that night.

Concerning my actual living situation, it’s absolutely wonderful. Essentially, they have a guest house on the second floor (either that or I’m displacing Seymour from his normal quarters) and I have it all to myself. It consists of a living room, bedroom and dining room. The bedroom is larger than any other bedroom I have ever had to myself with an approach on the bedroom I shared with my sister many years ago. I have set up my office for studying and whatever in the dining room as well as making that my tech center, so to speak, with all the adapters and junk I use being put in that room.

And now to burst the beautiful bubble that you may be imagining, I have a squat toilet. I’ve done some pretty crazy things in context with myself over the last few days. I’ve joined hands and danced Horol with about 100 other people. I’ve learned how to hand wash my clothes. I’ve walked 30 minutes to a bus stop. I’ve helped create a trellis for cucumber plants to grow up when they come into season. I’ve taken a shower in near freezing temperature water. The most amazing part of them all, however, is the squat toilet. For a little background, Bulgaria has a different toilet system. To describe it from my experience, when we flush all the water that was in the toilet ideally leaves and is replaced with a new basin of water. In Bulgaria the toilets don’t really flush, as it’s more of a dilution. Water is added to the tank while the same amount is drained at the same time but the tank is never empty. So your urine would still be in smaller volumes at the end of a flush while the fecal matter gets whisked away. Because of this, the toilet paper is almost never flushed down but is instead discarded in a nearby trash bin. That’s something else you can add to that list of awesome things I’ve done (no seriously, it’s really hard to imagine this but it’s a very amazing thing to be okay with that). Now that I’ve given you the idea, let me reiterate for a third time: There is a squat toilet outhouse on my little farm. There are actually two toilets here, one in the shower area which is an actual toilet, and the outhouse. The former is for the liquid waste, the latter is for the solid. I would describe for you the reason why I know the differences in uses but it would be rather obscene because it was done via gesture. My family is awesome. I’ve needed to go to the outhouse twice and each time it’s a terrifying experience. I’d go into more reasons why but it would get gross and I’ve just realized I’ve spent more than double the time describing the Bulgarian waste management system than anything else I’ve written about so far.

I’ve more to say about Amsterdam but I’ll leave it be for now and let you all take in my vivid description of my method of pooping. The outhouse is in the chicken pen, by the way. At first I thought they were fucking with me.

This is the Peace Corps. I’m totally okay with this and I haven’t had this much fun almost ever.



  1. heh. i'm trying to imagine the gestures used to explain the difference between the two toilets. fun with overactive imaginations.

  2. I'm actually quite interested in your poo story, but I guess I missed the opportunity to sponsor further poo narratives as I am a late-comer to your blog.

    I was unaware squat toilets were in use outside of south-east asia, although I suppose the socio-economic demographic would make them conducive. Do you know if there are any differences between the style of these squat toilets and those in China?