Friday, October 28, 2011

My Toilet is a Hole in the Ground

Latrines: rumor has it that some are quite high-tech; mine is not. When mum and dad opened the door to find a quaint little hole in the floor, they turned to me with wide, fearful eyes. It was obvious they didn't know whether to politely compliment it or wander off to pick out a bush instead. Having a rather humble, unassuming latrine, it expected neither (and I'd secretly expected less).

I've never fretted over something more than I did over that damned latrine before my parent's visited. How could I feel so self-conscious about a giant, empty concrete space? It's clean; I don't keep roaches; and it's not an entirely unpleasant experience - what could possibly go wrong?

A giant crack appeared in the doorway: Great, I thought, my latrine is going to swallow my mum whole. Each of my familiar roommates suddenly became a menace - What if the spiders tried to make friends with my dad? Or a lizard kamakazi'd him in the middle of the night? What if it was haunted by all the bugs I'd killed over the last year and they suddenly returned for their revenge? Clearly I wasn't thinking straight. I was afraid of the gross factor;I'd completely forgotten about the shock factor.

Until dad took not one, but six photos of it, I'd rather gotten used to the idea of my latrine. Perhaps it was the fact that he needed several angles, or the repeated exclamation: 'Paulette is not going to believe this,' but I suddenly remembered that most people I know don't use latrines. Like ever. I remembered my own first encounters - an irrational fear of the dark, followed by an irrational fear of what might fly into the light; my apparent shyness when it came to using something without a flushing mechanism to make it all go away; a frantic search for anything with wings, more than two legs, and pinchers anywhere near me or my backside. Having over a year to get used to my circumstances, I'd completely forgotten how this must look through someone else's eyes; in six different angles; with no flash.

So, for all you world travellers (and hopeful Ghana visitors ... hint, hint), here's a little list in latrine usage. Enjoy!

1.) If your latrine is more than five feet from your house - you may eventually have a problem.

2.) Be prepared for mosquitos to take full advantage of your vulnerabilities.

3.) Though a nuisance, flies aren't smart enough to take advantage of your vulnerabilities; with this in mind, be prepared for them to charge - without reason - at your bare ass anyway.

4.) There are some species of lizards that like to base jump. Onto your head. Consider them mostly harmless. (Extra points for understanding the reference!!!)

5.) If you do not have at least two back-up rolls of toilet paper (in the house and your travel backpack), you are an idiot and you asked for it. On most occassions ... I am an idiot.

6.) Someone else will eventually use your latrine. And they will miss.

7.) If you're travelling and you don't have to pay for it, I wouldn't recommend using it. Consider yourself warned.

8.) That boiled egg you just ate with pepe? You'd better hope your short distance sprints are up-to-par 'cause your latrine is lookin' pretty far away ...

9.) That is, indeed, a small child's eye ball in the crack of your door ... they can't see in, right??? IT'S TOO DARK IN HERE, RIGHT??!!!

10.) A toilet bowl is convenient, but squating is exercise. Choose wisely, grasshopper.

11.) Charcoal. Charcoal, charcoal, charcoal. There's only one place you can toss it and I suggest doing so.

12.) If your door, like mine, can only give credit for its upright status to an intricate web of strings tied around the frame, you may want to check the knots regularly. 'Cause that would just be awkward ...

13.) A mosquito net will only make midnight trips to the latrine even more inconvenient;  perfect your ninja roll.

14.) You are never above aiming: there's no room for arrogance when all you've got is a four inch radius.

15.) Remember: though surprising high-tech for anyone who regularly frequents the bush, visitors will most likely stare, take pictures, and talk crap about your poor, innocent bystander of a latrine. Remind your latrine regularly that it is, indeed, useful; perhaps give it a name to reassure it of its worth; and frequently pretend that you're living in a medieval castle. You're latrine will appreciate you for clinging to its novelty (however terrifying that novelty was in the beginning). It is always good to have a positive relationship with your latrine.

I'm sure there are more - many more - things I could say when it comes to my latrine and foreign latrine experiences. As a friend told me once, "always choose the bathroom you know over the one you don't." Ghana brings a whole new meaning to the phrase.