It wasn’t all that long ago that we needed to use an outhouse to do our business. Even my mom remembers using newspaper instead of toilet paper in the 50s because it wasn’t a common household item at the time.
Living in rural Ghana during the summer of 2007 brought me back in time to Montreal’s pre-indoor toilet era. My compound had one communal latrine (a tiny closet of a room with a hole in the ground and grooves to place your feet) that was locked, and only two people had the key. When my host family wasn’t there to open the door for me, I had to pee-pee dance sashay to the cranky old woman who didn’t like anybody and plead for the key with yellowing eyes.
If the need to go struck me in the middle of the night, I had to creep behind my compound to what I determined was a safe spot to do my business and hurry up before anyone, or any malaria-carrying mosquito, came along. I preferred the open-air bladder relief system to the latrines because I could gaze at the night sky and not smell other people’s waste.
Of course, I only did this as a final resort. If everyone went to the bathroom in this way, we’d be knee-deep in our own waste. The children were apparently exempt from proper sanitation in my village. They would often be pooping and waving to me by the side of the road with big grins. It was far more interesting to note the white lady on the bicycle than the fact that they were relieving themselves in plain sight, but maybe they also preferred to avoid ‘that’ smell.
The most disgusting toilet experience of my life was at a bus stop in Ghana while I was traveling from my home in the North to the airport to return to Canada. The vile smell was nauseating as I approached the open and brightly lit concrete structure. There was no use in lining up because the “toilet” was just an open troth with a horseshoe platform running the length of the room for women to stand on and aim into the putrid mix of urine and feces below. It was the ultimate fly fiesta, and I seemed to be the only one who was squeamish.
The room was half-full of typically loud and colorful Ghanaian women, chatting away doing their business next to each other. No stalls, toilet paper, or soap were anywhere in sight, so I did a discreet jiggle and hurried on my way, sneaking some anitmicrobial hand sanitizer from my bag as I closed around the corner and hopped back on the bus.
While my experiences were unpalatable, at least I was never in danger from the hail of problems people face in places where open-pit latrines and unsupervised toilets are the norm. Sanitation is a human rights issue, and where rights are neglected, the environment doesn’t stand a chance.
For health and biological reasons, having an environmentally secure place to void your waste helps prevent or at least slow down disease transmission. Some parasites, like intestinal worms, complete part of their life cycle by depositing eggs in our poop. A badly designed, or absent toilet will guarantee that the eggs will be inhaled or transmitted back to humans through our food that may have picked them up while it was still running around, like goats and chickens.
No-flush, or dry toilets can be designed to recycle waste and reduce environmental contamination.
School children and women are also at risk of assault in badly monitored and badly designed toilets. They’re caught off-guard with their undergarments already partially removed, making them easy targets. As a result, many people avoid toilets, opting for the immediate safety of their peers and open spaces versus a contained area that could put them in harm’s way.
We’re very fortunate in North America, although the toilets we do have are a colossal waste of water. You can conserve water from your toilet’s flushing mechanism by placing a two liter bottle filled with sand or water in your toilet’s tank. With this in place, it takes less water to fill the tank, and doesn’t remove from the flush power.
* photos 3.bp.blogspot.com and evianislam.com