Rubbed Raw

Perhaps presaging today’s events, last night I found myself unable to fall asleep. Awake until 2 a.m., I passed the time reading David Remnick‘s The Bridge, a biography of Barack Obama. It’s quite interesting and makes me wonder what the young Obama would say about his presidency.

Never mind that for now, though. I finally drifted off to sleep only to awake several hours later with a rolling pain in my belly. After determining that my kidneys were still in tact, I rushed to the bathroom where I … well, no need for details here. Let’s just say Mr. Whipple doesn’t need to worry about anyone squeezing Tajiki TP.

I probably should have stayed in bed, but not wanting to disappoint my guests, I showered, dressed and set off for my morning training session. Vadim, my chaperone, kindly secured some Immodium and water. Hoping to arrest the sickness, I made a wish and swallowed the pills.

Today’s training was in the same decrepit high rise as Wednesday’s. It’s a stunning structure in that it has all the hallmarks of a condemned building. Where there are lights, they flicker ominously. The elevators are narrow, noisy and dark. The doors stay open just long enough to catch you midway, slamming their heavy jaws on your shoulder.

Few buttons work, so you try to get to a floor as close as you can to your destination, then take the stairs the rest of the way, or back down if you passed your level.

The stairs, meanwhile, are uneven slabs of concrete intermittently tiled and flaked with peeled paint. The hallways have a ghostly air, thanks to the lack of light, color or any human adornment. And yet, at the end is a room full of eager journalists (well, that might be stretching it), ready to discuss social media, multimedia, and America’s global hegemony.

As I started the lesson, a deep rumble rolled across my abdomen. Uh oh, I thought. I’m going to need a bathroom. I waited, hoping the feeling would subside, but no such luck. I asked where the restroom was, apologizing for causing a delay so soon after starting.

A rail-thin Russian lead me to the hallway, where I spotted a dark bathroom. I started for it, but he headed me off. “No,” he said through the translator. “That one is no good.”

I tried to say it was fine… that I needed to go now, but he was adamant. He led to me to the elevator and we descended into the bowels of the building, through a series of elevators and stairs.

Having reached the basement, he pointed out the bathroom. I quickly walked over only to discover a porcelain hole in the ground, with two porcelain tread marks on either side. A basket of crumpled and stained newspaper sat by the entry.

Right, I thought. I’ll hold it.

I walked back to the Russian and said, “There’s no paper. It’s okay. Let’s just go back upstairs.”

He would have none of it. He dashed off to a small commissary and brought back three small pieces of napkin.

Fuck, he doesn’t get it, I thought. “Yeah, thanks. But that’s not going to work. It’s okay, let’s go back.”

He gave me a look that said, “What, our toilets are no good for you stuck up American?” In a sense, that was true. But I also knew that any attempt to use that toilet would end in disaster.

“Seriously, I’ll wait. Thanks.” He argued with me, but finally relented as I started back to the classroom on my own.

Meanwhile, my translator, aware of what was going on, said to me, “You know what you need? A shot of vodka and some salt. It will take care of everything no problem.” I thanked her for her advice. “I am telling you,” she said, “vodka and salt. Solves all stomach problems.” I half expected her to pull out a bottle and some Morton’s from her purse, but eventually she dropped it.

For the next two hours, I worked through the lesson, trying to maintain whatever pleasantness I could muster. Then I called it quits. I needed to go to my hotel.

I felt bad about ending the class early, but I had no other choice.  My hope now is that a dose of Cipro, kindly provided by Vadim, and a long nap will quickly get me back on my feet again.

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