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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs

Doing it out in the open.

Submitted: January 09, 2018

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Submitted: January 09, 2018



Who knows what sparks our interest when we scan a newspaper, go to the library or pick up a random volume while visiting someone’s house? The subject matter of this essay, Smelly is actually about open defecation. I didn’t want to put it in the title because it doesn’t sound so well as far as a title is concerned, but stick with me because it is an issue. To be plain, open defecation is pooing in the open because there are no toilets. What sparked this is; I read that fifty percent of the world’s open defecation occurs in India. The population there without toilets, equates roughly to the total population of the Unites States! So this means that throughout the world, a population twice the size of the US lacks toilet facilities.

Why am I even discussing this? Well while I was working in Tanzania, we carried out a primary schools’ assistance project that delivered student desks, teachers’ tables and chairs, book shelves or cupboards, text books, writing slates, chalk, blackboard paint, maps and science kits. Our funding for the project didn’t cover the building of classrooms, but it did allow for the building of toilets. The odd thing to me was that the funding organisation was keen on toilets, but the schools and the village authorities didn’t give two hoots about the possibility of new toilets!

Mswakini was the only school that had decent concrete-constructed toilets, one for boys and one for girls; they were supplied by their neighbours, Tanzania National Parks. The other schools had stinking, ramshackle toilets perhaps made out of corrugated iron, or fertilizer bags and even maize stalks! They were essentially urinals, erected some distance from the school complex. Looking around the villages, few houses had toilets, but if they did, they were as ramshackle as the school ones. So obviously most did the open defecation thing. I was never caught short like that, while working in those areas, but the only place we could pee was behind a bush. Females in our party wouldn’t go into the bush, instead they squatted behind, close to the vehicle, even if it was on the road. Modesty didn’t come into it, safety did.

While we were delivering food aid to Ngabobo primary school, there was an outbreak of cholera, so the school had been shut down. Instead we distributed the food at the local church. After the outbreak had died down, toilets sprung up in the village, various people including me, suggested it would be a good thing to do. Loti told me that culturally, men went into the pori to defecate and it was offensive for anyone, especially kid to see them in the process! Pori means bushland or wilderness. He didn’t mention to me how females coped, and I didn’t like to ask, but I suspect it wasn’t so secretive for them because mums teach kids.

The article I read was proposing that households dig pit latrines. The problem in India was that they didn’t like the idea of digging a latrine that might last only four or five years, they wanted theirs to last twenty! This meant they needed bigger, more expensive pits, and cost is why making them isn’t universally popular. I know nothing about the Indian situation, but I have racked my brain about the areas where I worked.

In those villages the pori was close at hand or there were plantations of either coffee or maize. As bad as open defecation may seem, in my opinion, it is better than having household latrines. My reasoning is thus: there is no way of washing hands after business has been done! There just isn’t any water! Most will know that in many cultures, the left hand is dirty, or unclean. Well that’s why. There’s no toilet paper, sure it’s available in the larger towns and cities, but it’s unaffordable in the rural villages, so wiping is done with grass, leaves, maize cobs, stones or whatever is available but the hand is still contaminated, so hands are cleaned as best possible with soil or foliage. We did the very same thing in the forest back home! Some of us might have carried a few sheets of toilet paper, but usually, we scraped a depression in the pine needles, did our business and covered it over. We used pine needles or grass for wiping and hand cleaning was done by using damp forest-duff. There was no water, and we had to eat during the day too!

Believe me, I have never studied poo! But I have observed it because from time to time, dirty bloody freedom campers crap in my paddock! However, I have noticed that remarkably, human faeces disappears within three or four days. I don’t know why, maybe it has high moisture content and sorry to say, birds seem to consume most of it. Sheep and cow poo on the other hand, remains sitting there for many weeks until the worms break it down! The campers’ toilet paper takes a long time to disappear too, but it’s my marker for where not to step.

When there’s no epidemic, cholera thrives in brackish water and can remain viable there for a very long time. In coastal areas, shellfish host it and I’m guessing fresh-water snails in Tanzania will carry it too. Sometimes there are open water races for irrigation, but the water is no good for human consumption because of the salts and fluoride occurring naturally in it. My research tells me that cholera bacteria remains viable: For 50 days in faeces (I’m not sure how the scientists found 50 day-old poo, maybe it was kept in a lab). For 1 month on grass. For 16 days in dust. For 1 week on coins. For 1-2 days on fingertips.

My concern is, if there are pit latrines beside schools and houses, and the water shortage remains, as it’s bound to, hand cleaning is the huge issue! Wiping hands on the earth or grass surrounding the latrine will contaminate the areas close to human habitation, fundamentally increasing the risk of disease! It’s best out in the pori as widespread as possible!

Just an opinion and something that ‘experts’ might want to consider.


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