Tribute to the Toilet and Much More
Erica Lally ’08 provides a November 2008 dispatch from Russia detailing the country’s reaction to President Obama’s election and the anniversary of a very special outhouse.
by Erica Lally ’08
October 1, 2009
The celebration of Erica Lally ’08’s host family’s “island of peace and stability” featured two honorees—the Russian bear and Grigori Rasputin.
What a week! I think the Russians followed our election about as closely as people did in the states. All weekend, everyone was asking me who I thought was going to win, who I voted for, what I thought about America's future regarding the economy, war in Iraq, relation to Russia, etc.
The day of our elections was also the same day as President [Dmitry] Medvedev's State of the Union [address], but the Russian press devoted equal time to both events.
I think Russia, like much of Europe, is happy with the results of the election. I watched the election results on CNN at an American diner in Moscow, and there were about as many Europeans there as there were Americans.
This past weekend at the dacha there was a great celebration in honor of the 10th Anniversary of the Opening of the Outhouse. Don't worry, I'll explain. Whenever an important building was opened in the Soviet Union, there would be an extravagant opening ceremony with official representatives from different committees who would speak. Poems would be read, songs would be sung—all in honor of the new building.
Because my host family has a great sense of humor, when they built and opened their new outhouse at the dacha in 1998, they held a similar ceremony. They christened the outhouse “Toilet 2000” because, with its electricity and window, it was an “outhouse of the future.”
This year marked the 10th anniversary of the opening of the outhouse, and the family decided to celebrate this “great holiday” in style. About 30 of their neighbors came to celebrate, and this event was even bigger and better than the original opening. There were seven “officials” there—all of whom presented short speeches.
I was the “official representative from the United States of America,” and I read them a “letter” from President George W. Bush, congratulating them on this great holiday and thanking them for the important role the toilet has played in Russo-American relations over the years. To make the “letter” seem even more official, I read it in English, and my host mother's granddaughter translated.
The humor of the speeches and poems was very witty, but you need a bit of context to understand. In recent speeches, Prime Minister [Vladimir] Putin has described Russia as an “island of stability” in the world economic crisis and has emphasized the importance of having a “vertical system of power” in Russia. Therefore, one of the main speeches in honor of the toilet described the toilet as an “island of peace and stability' that works on the important system of “top to bottom” power. Everyone toasted the outhouse, wishing it “enough room” for another 10 years of service, and then people sang and danced late into the night.
When they opened the outhouse in 1998, it was in the midst of one of the worst economic crises that Russia has ever faced—my host family actually hid bags of potatoes in the ground so that they would have food through the winter. Looking back, the family [told] me that even though the economic situation was awful in 1998, what they remember most was the fun they had with one another at the dacha.
With the future uncertain here due to a new economic crisis, people seem to have the attitude, “We've been through tough times before, and we can do it again if we have to because we have one another—and that is what is most important.”