Mar 062012
 
Village sign for Teplitz

Welcome to Teplitz, Bessarabia, Ukraine

The hospitality was bounteous, if not terribly personalized. A short visit with the mayor and his wife, then they handed us over to the guesthouse where we’d be staying that night. As with every Ukrainian meal, plates of food covered every square inch of the table’s surface. But the guesthouse owner hovered over us like she was daring us to eat and the odd smell permeating the building put a damper on my appetite.

Serge had sworn to me it was just sulfur in the local water that created the smell. But my nose told me “sewage,” not sulfur-rotten-egg smell.

Suite ala Teplitz

I knew I should feel honored that Elli, Elaine, and I had been given the “suite” with its private bathroom. The other alternative was simply to rent a bed in a common room (currently filled with male Ukrainians) and use the bathroom down the hall. But the dubious glamour of a suite in Teplitz evaporated quickly when we found out we couldn’t use the toilet (apparently it wasn’t actually connected to any water/sewer system) or the bathtub (ditto). Fortunately we could use the water in the sink, though the cold water gushed out in a stream of black and the hot water wasn’t. From the constantly dripping faucet, the abundant smell of this sewage-smelling water permeated our room.

The town well house

The town’s well house was decorated and ornate.

The liquid dilemma

It was early for bed, but there was little to do in Teplitz once it was dark. Without streetlights, the moon and stars didn’t produce enough light to stroll the pothole-filled streets or broken walkways without risking a broken ankle. But Serge and Peter had a plan for the evening—they suggested we all talk over beers they’d brought back from a local store.

I envisioned the walk to the outhouse through the dark, tiptoeing through mounds of goose poop and ducking under clotheslines that were hung at just the right level to decapitate me. I envisioned the outhouse,

Inside of well house

The “aromatic” smell of Teplitz’s water drifted out from this well.

which was a rickety wooden structure with a small triangular hole through the floor boards that was so small it was apparent people missed the hole more often than hit it. I shook my head.

“No thanks, I don’t want any liquid in my body.” I’d drunk sparingly all through dinner to avoid using that outhouse more than was necessary.

Serge tried to reassure me. “It is only beer. There is not that much alcohol in it.”

He obviously didn’t get it. I explained that I didn’t want to drink any liquid, not even water, since I had no desire to visit that outhouse. He burst out laughing, then rattled a bunch of Russian off to Peter, who then joined him in laughing. I’m glad I could amuse them. I went to bed.

Surviving the night

And just barely woke when Elli returned from talking and drinking with Peter and Serge, whispering to me about the cockroaches they’d seen in the room where we’d had dinner.

I’d already consciously chosen to ignore the fact that my sheets, though apparently freshly laundered, reeked of the sewage-smelling water and had stains all over them. Cockroaches weren’t enough to disturb me at this point. I merely groped over the side of the bed to be sure my backpack was firmly zipped shut so I wouldn’t take any six-legged visitors with me when we left the next day.

Despite having drunk almost nothing, I found myself wide awake in the night, not once but twice, desperately needing that horrible outhouse. I survived both trips by doing something I would never have imagined before. Even though we were in the middle of a town and I’ve always thought I was a civilized person, I avoided the outhouse by simply peeing in a corner of the yard. Hey, it was dark.

A night in Teplitz is a travel experience I won’t soon forget. Or probably repeat willingly. But it has left me emotionally prepared to casually endure some pretty terrible toilets in my travels without flinching. Nothing like traveling to an ancestral village in rural Ukraine to open one’s mind to the possibilities of rustic toilets.

To read more about visiting ancestral towns, check out my book, “Yes You! Yes Now! Visiting Your Ancestral Town.” Also, see more photos of Teplitz.

  3 Responses to “…and a Night in Teplitz”

  1. WHat a story!
    Reminds me of the DAY-TIME adventure in Uklraine whe we stopped at a PUBLIC toilet at a kind of bus stop where another Sergei ahd taken us on the way to Romania. Suffice ti to say ti was a very uninviting squatting arrangement without plumbing … Ayt another palce there was a simnialr thing, but the bottom was actually made of ceramic! And there was runnign water …
    AH

  2. HelloCarolyn,
    I was born in Teplitz Bessarabia and have visited there twice. The last time in 2011. I had to chuckle when I read your account of the guest house in Teplitz and the toilet facilities. My sister and I avoided those infamous outhouses with the triangular opening wherever we could. Fortunately we were with a group of travellers from Germany.We took daily trips; our tour leader instructed the bus on a regular basis to stop in the country by cornfields and the men rushed to one side of the highway and the women to the other side sheltered by the bus where we squatted down . On one occasion all the women were sitting in a row when along strolled a Ukrainian farmer on this way home from his field. His eyes were bigger than saucers, ha, ha. We must have been quite a spectacle. I would love to visit again but I cannot stomach the sanitary situation in the country side. I did not eat anything raw, even though the tomatoes and other vegetables looked so fresh and tempting. Even with precaustion I had one bad day. Thank heavens for these stops at the cornfields. I avoided an embarassing disaster. We stopped for coffee at the former Lafka in Teplitz, (my father used to talk about that store when I was young) It was very clean inside and everything looked lovely but of course there are no toilet facilities and I was directed across the street to one of those horrible cement structures with a triangular hole in the floor. It was like this everywhere in the country. I found it very dicouraging, the facilities had not changed since the 1980’s when I visited the first time.
    Thanks for your informative and amusing account of the guesthouse in Teplitz.Bessarabie.

  3. Hi Gerlinde – yep, you’ve definitely experienced rural Bessarabia! I still really enjoyed my visit…and was very relieved the next couple of nights we stayed with a family in Yuriewka (near Hoffnungstal). We still used an outhouse, but it was kept beautifully clean, even had wallpaper and a cushy toilet seat! Thanks for your comments!

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