Peace Corps Writers
A Writer Writes
No Shortage of Toilet Paper Here
   by Heather Carroll (Russia 2000–01)
Read other short works about the Peace Corps experience

SOME OF US VOLUNTEERS lived in what the Russians liked to refer to as dorms. They were really set up like the Soviet communal apartments I had seen in the foreign film I watched fervently before IPrinter friendly version left for Russia. They were dank and small and located in odd places. The dorm where I lived was on the first floor of the Yaroslavl State University medical building.
     There were two apartments in my dorm. To the left of the entrance a door led to an abandoned apartment. I caught a glance inside once or twice and it looked gutted. I never saw anyone go in or out of it. The door that led to my apartment was to the right of the entrance. Inside there were three bedrooms lining a long, narrow corridor that was absent of light most of the time. At the end of the corridor there was, as was standard in Russian apartments, a room with a toilet and a sink, a separate room with a bath, and a small kitchen. I lived in the bedroom closest to the toilet. Amy, a British student learning Russian at Yaroslavl State, lived in the next bedroom while the third bedroom was vacant most of the time. Occasionally people came from Moscow or elsewhere in Russia for university business. Unlike Amy and I, who lived there more or less permanently, they usually stayed for only a day or two.
     The woman and her daughter who had spent the last three nights left without saying goodbye but I guess I never expected them to. They were friendly and I had enjoyed their company while they were in town but we shared little more than sips of vodka, a refrigerator and a toilet.
     Amy was the first one to use the toilet after they left. Afterward, she walked into my room sheepishly. “The blue bin in the bathroom is full of soiled tissue.” She announced standing in the center of the room with one hand on her slender hip and the other at her side.
     I was sitting at my table reading my Russian textbook. I had one hand on my dictionary and the other on the text, my index finger marking the unknown word. I turned my whole body to look at her, “You’re kidding?” I said unable to fully process what she was saying.
     “Yeah. The bin is full of it. What are we meant to do with all of it?” I could tell she was exasperated.
     The women who had left the toilet paper there were well educated, well groomed women. There had to have been something we didn’t know. There were always small waste baskets in bathrooms but I had never seen anything in them so I never used them, except at public squat toilets where there were always full bins. At most places, and always in the dorm, however, I flushed my toilet paper down the toilet and never had a problem.
     Maybe these women from Moscow thought that our humble Yaroslavl dorm was no different than a public toilet or maybe our humble dorm wasn’t as humble as we thought — maybe our toilet was more powerful than theirs. Either way they had filled the empty waste basket and Amy and I had to do something about it.
     “I don’t know what we are supposed to do with it. Let’s just throw it in the dumpster in back.” I suggested.
     “There is a box of matches on the lid. Maybe we are meant to burn it.” She said.
     “Do you think?”
     I got up to go look at the waste basket, the toilet paper and the matches. Amy followed me. When we arrived in front of the toilet, we both stood there in silence not sure what to say or do. We looked at it for a good long while. The blue, metal bin was laced with amoeba-shaped rust spots as if it had sat out in the rain. If the basket would have been plastic I doubt we would have even considered burning the toilet paper. But since it was metal, at least in theory, you could easily burn toilet paper in it.
     Finally I leaned over and picked up the matches. “Do you really think we should burn it? Maybe we should just throw it away.” I said.
     “I’m not touching it. There is no bag in the bin.” Amy was adamant.
     “OK. I don’t want to touch it either. Maybe they left the matches there on purpose.”
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