Please forgive me in advance for the less professional nature of this blog. But in honor of “World Toilet Day” I wanted to make sure that everyone back home truly appreciated the beauty that is Western plumbing and the comfort and cleanliness of the porcelain throne 😉
So during our first week in Liberia we went and lived in a small village called Kamada Town. It had about 25 house in the village center and only 1 latrine house for the whole village to use (and when I say latrine house what I mean is a deep hole in the ground with a wooden/cement frame around it). Just one latrine house (2 holes)…for maybe 100 people…this was new for me (in the past I’ve apparently been spoiled and only had to share the latrine house with my immediate host family). Anywho, the latrine was about a 2-3 minute walk through town out past the edge of the schoolyard. One day we were sitting around and talking about poop stories (forgive me…but this just seems to always happen when you live in a developing country) and wouldn’t you know it the urge overcame me. So I got up and started my walk out to the latrines. It was about 6:00 so was starting to get dark but I still figured it was ok to walk out there by myself. It was the village…I always feel much safer in the village than I do in the cities. As I’m walking out there, I must have been greeted by at least 3 different households, children and women alike shouting out to me “Fefa (my Gola name…it means “thin” or “breeze”)…where are you going? How are you?” “I am going to the bathroom” I replied….but to be honest I didn’t think that the question really warranted a response since the bathroom was really the only place I could possibly be going if I was walking that direction. The only reason you walk down that little footpath is because you need to take a #2…and basically the whole town knows it. It felt like a walk of shame each time I had to go…
After I said my hello’s and explained what business I had to attend to down on the other end of the path, I finally made it to the latrines. As I flung open the door, I saw something move in the corner of my eye. I stepped back! No…I thought…it couldn’t still be there…could it?? Melissa had mentioned that she saw it earlier when she went to the bathroom, but it must have left by now, right??? I took a deep breath and gingerly opened the door…Ahhhh! There it was! A giant grey fuzzy spider maybe 4-5 inches big was just hanging out on the inside of the door. In my head all I could think was “Oh crap oh crap oh crap!” Yes, I used to see insect samples every day at work as an extension agent, but giant fuzzy spiders in a latrine dusk?!??! Heck no…..
I finally pulled myself together and prepared to enter the latrine. The spider wasn’t moving and I convinced myself he would stay that way so it would be safe for me to just get in and get out. I resolved not to close the door though…I was far enough away from town I didn’t think that anyone would be able to see me anyways even with the door wide open. As I entered I was in for another surprise…there on the back wall of the latrine was ANOTHER SPIDER! “Nope, can’t do it…nope nope nope” was all I thought to myself. And yet, I had walked all the way out here…and it was getting dark…it was now or never…I put my brave face on and walked in and squatted down while trying to keep my eyes on both spiders…but when there is one spider in front of you and one behind you that is just about near impossible. So there I was trying to relax enough to attend to my business and yet still whipping my head around from back to front, back to front….trying to monitor the position of the spiders. It was no use…the stress was too much. I stood up and walked back outside. Out of curiosity, I decided to look in the other stall to see if the spider situation was the same…I opened the door….and yup yup yup…there was another one…that was it. I am going home, I will have to try again in the morning.
I closed both the latrine doors and turned around and much to my surprise one of the ladies from the village was standing just 10 feet from the latrines waiting for me. I replayed the last 5 minutes in my head…”How long had she been there? Had she heard me cursing up a storm? Did she see my jump back out of the stall? Did she see me leaving the door open? Did she see me gingerly inspect the second stall after having “used” the first stall? Oh what was she thinking about this strange American…?” As I made eye contact with her she somewhat awkwardly asked “Are you done, Fefa?” With a face turning red and my awkward hands out in my full swing I stumbled over my words and finally said yes and we began our walk back. She said she was worried about me out here all alone so she came to wait for me. Despite me feeling awkward about the whole situation, the more I thought about it really was sweet I have to admit…that she would drop whatever she was doing and come out and wait for a girl she hadn’t ever officially even talked to before to make sure that I was ok. That was a new level of hospitality. But that was standard out here in the village. People offering to walk with you to a farm just to make sure you got there safe, people offering to fetch water and carry chairs, and people wanting to cook for you (so much so that you end up with 3 dinners per night, plus a side of 10 cucumbers and 15 bananas). The village life was difficult for many more reasons other than the bathroom situation, but the people and their hospitality and outlook on life and relationships made me want to stay out there forever.
A few last words…
Even though I just told a humorous story about what it was like for me trying to live without a toilet, the truth is about one in three people in the world don’t have access to sanitary conditions when it comes to going to the bathroom and it is a serious problem. World Toilet Day was created in order to raise awareness about the 2.4 billion people living without a toilet. Prabasi from the Huffington Post says “Here’s why that matters: when people have no choice but to poop in the open or in filthy, unsafe latrines, disease spreads, women are subjected to harassment and rape, and kids get sick, causing over 300,000 preventable deaths each year. All of that adds up to lost time, education, health, dignity and livelihoods—and it’s something that we can change.” To learn more about World Toilet Day visit: http://www.un.org/en/events/toiletday/.