No Toilet

After an hour run in -30C today, made possible by my new facemask (thanks pop), my new goggles (thanks ma?), and many many layers. Gotta love this shit, or winter would be a bummer.

I feel duped. I woke up Saturday morning to canceled school, high winds, and -35 C. Last week I was sure that I could smell spring, my mind had begun to drift to happy pastures full of love, warmth, and color, and I was already hollowing out a space in my tiny room to store my parka. Someone with a better outlook on life might look at this as the perfect lesson in living in the present moment, but I feel bitter and cheated, a feeling reminiscent of more than one sunny summer mornings back home. Sunny summer mornings? Yes, those gorgeous summer mornings were some of the worst days of my life, filled with pain, regret, and anger at a God.

The stage would be set on a Wednesday night, the crackling of a summer storm making a Minneapolis evening seem rife with possibilities and adventure. I’d find myself on the computer, trembling with anticipation while logging on to I’d type in my zipcode, and quickly scroll down the page where it would invariably say that from 5 am to 5pm, Thursday has a one-hundred percent chance of rain. I’d then scan the weather radar just to make sure, and confirm my results by watching a huge solid storm slowly creeping toward the Twin Cities. It was at this point, that over and over again I proved myself dumber than Pavlov’s dogs, and let elation flow through my veins into my fingertips, where it would dial my friends, then make its way to my lips, where against my better judgement it would plan a night of revelry.

Far too often would I wake to banging on my door at six the next morning, and peer out the window at a clear pink sky. Adrenalin gets you through breakfast and the first hour or so of the day, but by nine or nine thirty, I’d curse the gorgeous day while stumbling around, being yelled at, and trying to avoid being nauseous. The kicker was that my dad and whoever else was on the job with me would take a perverse pleasure in watching me suffer, and either grunt about how stupid I was, or expound about how in “their day” they’d go out every night, but because they weren’t little girls, they’d work harder the next day just to prove that they could.

And so when the old-timers in Sergeyevka laugh at my disbelief at our February temperatures (which, according to my new MN Weatherguide calendar, have just surpassed two MN record lows, and are predicted to keep destroying them for the week), I think about my dad and Randy loving every minute of my nauseating pain on summer mornings.

So the other day I had a bit of a debacle. After drying off from a wash, I sat on my radiator to ponder life, then walked to our bathroom to enjoy a pleasant moment to myself. Fortunately I looked before sitting down, and was treated to the unwelcome sight of a full toilet. Startled, I walked into the living room and told my host dad that the toilet didn’t look so good before asking him if the septic was full. He told me that the septic was all clear, and then laughed and said that one of the guests who came over the weekend had probably plugged the toilet. He then went back to looking at cars on the internet, apparently devoid of any desire to remedy the situation.

Finding myself in a little pickle, I made some coffee in order to think the situation through, and by the time the caffeine gods released their hold on me, I looked up from the table to a house empty of both host-parents. Coffee was the wrong decision, and after checking that the toilet was still full, I realized that I was now in an urgent situation. Muttering something along the lines of “finkzstancntbelvaminthsfrgncntry”, I laced up my winter boots, grabbed my flashlight, and stuffed my extra supply of paper in my jacket pocket. I quickly vaulted the fence leading to our backyard, climbed the huge snowdrift that’s been growing there since November, and shined my flashlight towards our outhouse. Unfortunately the outhouse was nowhere to be seen, as it was eaten by the snowdrift.

I was pissed. I can deal with a lot of things, cold water, no water, cabbage soup, -40, high winds, but having a place, any place, to do my business is a necessity. After relating this story to my dad, he concluded that this sense of entitlement stems from his positive reinforcement at the john when I was younger, specifically how I must have internalized his comments that my doodoo’s were “masterpieces.” I stormed back inside and spent five minutes of futility trying to unplug the toilet, but without any success because the plunger was locked in the shed. I then informed my host-sister of my situation, and to my irritation, she treated it with the same attitude of my host-father, “well, that’s how it is, there’s nothing you can do about it.” At this point however, I was not feeling the live and let live attitude, and explained to her that I was two minutes away from taking a shit in the front yard. She got the point, and hurriedly directed me to the neighbors outhouse.

So that’s how I found myself sneaking around in the shadows behind our neighbor’s house about to go recon on their potty. I finally reached the outhouse door, and only after three frantic tugs, realized that it was padlocked shut for the winter. I was not in a happy or good place, and was about to sprint back to our yard to express my displeasure when another small building caught my eye. Upon closer inspection it revealed itself to be an old and abandoned outhouse, standing alone and forgotten in the far corner of the yard. Its door gave way after I put my shoulder to it, and I stumbled inside. The floorboards were iffy and the draft was frigid, but that little building will forever hold a fond place in my heart, although I’d imagine the feeling isn’t reciprocated.

My interest, and subsequent writing about bodily functions firmly establishing myself as a ten-year old, it’s only appropriate that I discuss my first English club for third graders. I’ve been teaching fifth through tenth-grade, and I don’t have room for more classes in my schedule, but I melted when ten or so third graders came up to me in the hall last week and asked when Mr. Collin was going to teach their class. I briefly considered dumping my less appreciative tenth-grade class, but remembered certain school politics and thought better of it. I’m weak though, and the next thing I knew, I was walking upstairs after promising to hold a weekly English club for just third graders, not having any idea what to expect, or if any of them would actually show up.

Our school rotates in two shifts, older kids in the morning and younger at night, and on Monday as I was wrapping up ninth-grade English, tiny beings wrapped head to foot in winter clothes began waddling into my class. Ninth-grade is not an easy class, but it’s one of my favorites. It was Valentine’s day, so all of the students were in that good, excited, and slightly manic mood that strikes high school students when they think about romance.

Eighth grade girls showing off their valentines

And the dudes, far more interested in discussing life than my Valentines day lesson. Not the case for the ninth grade boys.

Side note of Valentine’s Day class.

On the previous Friday, I used a technique that I’ve now done in a couple of classes where I stop class and slowly teaching the word “flirt” (which happens to be a perfect cognate) when students are paying a little too much attention to each other and too little attention to the lesson. I know that it might seem cruel, but I like to think of it as fully embracing the communicative teaching approach. So on Monday, I followed up Friday’s lesson on flirting with a full Valentine’s Day lesson in comparing American and Kazakhstani traditions, giving my students chocolate, and having them write Valentine’s Day letters. Not surprisingly, the flirters from Friday put out some of the best love letters, which prompted a brief lesson in manly ways to show a girl you’re interested in her. That basically meant that I suggested that flowers, compliments, and cooking for the object of your affections might elicit a more favorable response than poking them, ignoring them, or saying “hey baby.”

But on to the third graders. They are very different from fifth through tenth graders, although share some key similarities with eighth graders. About twelve of them showed up for my club, and it was like my classroom exploded in cuteness. But besides being cute, third graders seem to more easily understand and take directions in a foreign language that they don’t know. After twenty-five minutes I discovered that the rusty lining to this silver cloud is that they go through activities ten-times as fast as anybody I’ve ever taught. So, for the first time in my short teaching career, I ran out of things to do. Fortunately this was club, not class, so we played a not-morbid version of hangman (if I build a person they lose), which they loved, for the remainder of class.

That’s about it for now from the South end of the Western Siberian plain. I’ll leave you with a “moment.”

I was walking home from piano today lost in vague contemplations of how long it would take to freeze my nose off or if its possible freeze my eyelashes or eyebrows off, when I heard “Good morning Mr. Collin!” It was Misha, a sixth grader who I sat down with the other day and plied with chocolate because he looked sad. Given that he said “hi” in English, I overlooked the fact that ‘good morning’ was not the appropriate greeting for seven o’clock at night. So I smiled out of my fur hood and hat and yelled back “hey” and asked him how he was doing. He grinned and said, “Aaaaasauum!” Which in turn gave me an awesome moment.

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4 Responses to No Toilet

  1. Mary McCrossan says:

    Hey Collin!
    I know what you mean about feeling duped by the weather. We had a week of 40 and 50 degree temperatures, which melted so much snow, I could see patches of grass! I definitely began feeling the symptoms of spring fever! However, today the wind is howling and the snow is flying and the forecasters are predicting more than 10 inches of new snow!
    I haven’t seen you in a few weeks because your mom has been off on some weekend skiing jaunts. So it’s great to catch up with you on your blog. It was fun to read about your experiences with the 3rd graders. Coincidentally, Hannah is going to work with a 3rd grade class in my school for one of her degree requirements. She starts next Tuesday, so I’ll let you know how it goes for her.
    Bye for now!

  2. Lynnell Mickelsen says:

    So how long before your host parents fixed the toilet? Also, how barren is the neighborhood, i.e. could you have “simply” pooped in a snow drift in the back yard and remain unseen? Inquiring minds want to know!

    Great blog, Collin!

  3. Lucia Callizo says:

    Mi Coco,

    I realize that sleeping isn’t quite the same as pooping, but Im sharing my thoughts through your blog anyways because I think my point will support your claim that bodily needs are crucial to our existence for more than the obvious, natural reasons. I also realize the topic might be a bit of a cliche but oh well…

    I was reading on the couch by the big window upstairs in the campus center when I noticed the beautiful sky, thought of sending you a picture from my phone, thought again, and figured that you were probably asleep so I didnt. And I dont mean “asleep” in that abstract, not-living-the-moment type of sleep, but just literally “uuhsleep” as Minnesotans would say. (Side-note 4 Mr. Collin: you might want to address MN stereotypes in your book club presentation btw; maybe reference the accent and ice-fishing and stuff).

    Anyways, I started thinking about how much of our time is dedicated to sleeping, and was shocked after putting it in the specific context of our relationship and the 12 hour difference.

    Just think about it…

    I wake up in the morning (feeling like P.Diddy), get on skype, and say goodnight to you before heading over to breakfast. If it’s a good day, you are probably asleep by the time I get to class. Then I learn about development for an hour and a half, have lunch, go to my human rights class and you are still asleep. When I’m done, I walk down the stairs, into the poli sci dept, and go to political violence; and, when I leave Carnegie, you are still asleep. After that, I hold my lab (which I forgot to mention I did earlier between class and lunch) and if its Monday, I go to trapeze class by 4:45. I come back from circus at 6:15 and it’s dark already, but you are still asleep so I go to Cafe Mac and have dinner with my friends. As I’m finishing up, on the other side of the world, the alarm clock on your phone goes off; and as you breathe in deeply and lean over to turn the sound off, I walk outside, look at the moon, and head over to my room to say good morning to you before you leave for school. It is true that you are up for about five hours before I go to bed (on a good day), but the point is that as I live my life, as I experience the different situations that will keep on shaping me as a person, you are in a state of self-induced unconsciousness; and when you are awake, it is the other way around.

    If you think about it, it’s like the average American life span of 78 years is actually 39. Or okay, maybe more like 58 if you sleep eight hours a day. Isn’t that amazing? This really goes back to your idea of living in the present moment because, if you look at it that way, we have even less time to than we think enjoy life and all the beautiful relationships, situations, and emotions that come from it. I guess thinking about the importance of sleep is also a significant indicator of how important it is to rest in order to be healthy, and a good motivation to buy a good mattress. It even makes for good ads: ” ’cause most of the beautiful moments in life are spent in bed” and you see a family sleeping together or something. Haha.

    Anyways, point is, remembering that we sleep for a third of our life further reinforces your idea that it is important to live a mindful day-to-day. And the beautiful side of it is that not only do we get a really long time to dream, but we also get double that time to materialize those dreams and make them our tiny contribution to the world.

    Te amo,

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