You haven't lived until you've been to an outhouse in Siberia at five in the morning

The only phrase missing in the sentence above is "in winter", but it's good enough.

Although the train stopped in Irkutsk, we actually spent most of our time on the shores of Lake Baikal, in a town called Listvyanka (I have also called this town "Listvankya", but I mean the same thing). No hotel for us while we were there, a genuine Siberian homestay was our reward. Run by a motherly woman named Galina, we spent two nights in a house that had no doors inside (only curtains) and, more importantly for some, no indoor plumbing.

The sinks inside the house all lead into a bucket, so you have to be careful not to use so much water. For more serious needs (what I refer to as "Number 1" and "Number 2") there is an outhouse. It's a very simple thing, there are three walls and a door and a hole in the ground. There are also some toilet rolls for decoration. If you shine a light down the latrine (and you need to use a torch, because there is no bulb) you see the four foot deep hole in all it's glory. It's exactly as you might imagine it to be.

Mama's relationship with this outhouse could be summarised by the fact that she sidled up to Ilyana, our guide, on the second day and whispered confidentially, "I have a small problem". The ensuing conversation (which I politely kept a distance from) ended up with Ilyana and me sharing a coffee in a tourist hotel while my mum enjoyed the conveniences of modern indoor plumbing.

I couldn't help noticing that the outhouse in the homestay was right next to the vegetable patch. Galina grows her own vegetables and chickens, one of which we consumed over a lunch and dinner.

And, oh my, what wonderful meals they were. It gives that phrase "home-cooked" justice. Most of it was quite tasty (if sometimes a little salty) but the main feature was the volume. She cooked for four or five people, even though it was only Mama, me and Ilyana, our local guide. I left each mealtime filled to the gills, wondering how on Earth I could eat any more that day, and somehow manage to get hungry again at the next mealtime.

Breakfast was a combination of eggs in some form (quiched, or fried) and blini, thin Russian pancakes, sometimes small and round, crispy around the edges, yummy with butter, jam or cheese.

Lunch and dinner main courses are interchangable, although there is a soup course before lunch. You get everything from roast chicken (and Galina's chickens are really large, so two pieces are more than enough), chicken cutlets, fried rice with vegtables and fried omul, which is a local fish fresh from the lake. The omul was crispy around the edges and quite yummy.

Most meals were finished off with tea or coffee, and Galina's jam tartlets, which you could top off with sour cream if you wanted.

In fact, you could add sour cream to just about anything: soups, pancakes, mashed potatoes. I like sour cream, so it's not a problem for me.

Galina never joined us during mealtimes, because she said that she wanted to lose weight, but the fact that dinner coincided with her favourite Brazilian soap opera (dubbed in Russian) probably had something to do with it as well.

There's something about me and Siberian food that means that the stuff doesn't reach a critical point in the digestion process until five in the morning. For two nights in a row, it was five in the morning when I suddenly woke up and had to make a decision between trying to quell the feeling in my tummy and get to sleep or to put on warm clothes and trudge down the garden path.

The first night this happened, I woke Mama up. He eyes flicked open and I told her I was going to the loo. She said "good", and proceded to put on her warm clothes. Not a single word was exchanged between then and the front door, and I knew I had been assigned Keeper of the Light on the Path to the Outhouse. I had to go first because I was bursting with something like two cups of coffee, two cups of tea, two bowls of soup and numerouos glasses of water, and so mama had to wait outside. It was the first time in my life that I had heard her use a sentence with the words "pee" and "horse" in it at the same time.


posted on Friday, May 30, 2003 - permalink
Hi Dzof,
I remember this type of loo too, but it was not in Siberia. It was in my grandfather's old shophouse on Leith Street, Penang. It was the scariest thing for a six-year-old to peer into a bucket of unimaginables! It was stinky, it was just a bucket, and it was one of those episodes which scarred me for life. And I have always been thankful for my modern loo ever since! Krista
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