Monday, April 14, 2008

Latrine Training in Lokotuko

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ah, the children. So precious; so just want to pick them up and give them a great big hug and squeeze. I bet there would be a combination of laughter and fear in their reactions. Much like those aunts/grandmothers/others who used to pinch our cheeks and ooh and aaah when we saw them at family gatherings. So embarrassing; so painful both physically [those old dames had strong pincers] and emotionally [please don't touch me, I'm embarrassed to be fussed over as if I were a little monkey]. But, now as an adult, how can one resist those chubby cheeks, wide eyes filled with curiosity and hope and desire? How, indeed!

I bet we all have latrine stories. I know, Glenn, you have intentionally not shown us what the latrines look like, and probably for good reason, even if they are new and modern and quite spiffy biffies. How can the word "latrine" not evoke stories, with a little giggle here and a roll of the eyes there and a gross out to boot.

We won't talk about Chinese toilets, which I can from experience. But there are some funny stories indeed. In the late 1980s, just as China was going western [Chairman Deng's famous "It's good to make money" or "It's good to be rich" or some such legendary version interpreting the statement about "a field of a thousand flowers" that brought modern money making fanaticism to China], some of my friends taught at Fudan University in Shanghai. This was not the Shanghai of today's tourist attractions, garish neon dominated buildings, and future World Expo. This was the Shanghai of post Cultural Revolution China, and Fudan, being a university on the edge of modernization, had just introduced western toilets [it was probably because there were more visiting professors than in the past]. Chinese students had great difficulty with these because Chinese toilets are on the ground squatters [even on the 10th floor -- don't ask], while western biffies are thrones. There was a rash of broken and bruised legs and arms among the student population as they tried to "squat" on the rims of the thrones and often fell off. They thought Westerners were nuts for making it so hard to unload a load, and we probably totally convinced we are unscrutable [ah, the joys of cross culturalism].

Continuing down the biffy road: I have an Aussie friend -- a Sydneysider -- now living in Canada and acting out as a prof at one of our local universities. Typical of most Aussies, and esp men, in his youth he had a wanderlust [actually, although no longer young, he still has it]. For instance, he traveled by bike and road and rail down the length of SA along the Andes. Sometimes he traveled with fellow Aussies of like type; but being a relatively nice looking guy and easy going, he often got picked up by young women along the way. But those are stories for another time, since they have nothing to do with latrines.

He did travel throughout parts of Africa and on one of his sojourns was accompanied by his closest friend from boyhood. They thumbed around in ways that ape Glenn's other stories of travel along African roads in beat up cars/ trucks with cohorts of people crammed into tight spaces. They have magnificent pictures of their experiences, so beautiful as to entice you to want to do some of the same [well, for some of us that may be true, but for me there is not even a smidge of a possibility to slum it through Paris, never mind Africa].

One such incredible and poignant photo is taken of children, standing at the flap of the two man tent, obviously giggling as they watch these two lanky white guys sleeping. The poingnancy is multiplied tenfold when you are told this is in Goma, before the atrocities. No matter how hard you try you cannot help wondering which of the smiling faces lived through the bloodletting, and which did not. It sends a shiver up the spine even now writing about it.

But back to latrines: one night in a remote village, my friend woke up to a blood curdling scream from outside that he recognized as the voice of his traveling companion. Thinking the worst, he scrambled out of his sleeping bag and headed into the pitch black night towards the scream -- which was located in the vicinity of the village latrine. That phenom was basically a very deep hole in the ground, over which one squatted to do one's business. It seemed that the traveling companion needed to go badly in the middle of the night, made his way to the hole, dropped his drawers [no he hadn't fallen in], started his business, and in the midst of all this felt this humungous thick slug slither up his leg while in mid squat. That set off the scream! So gross!

But to put a bit of icing on the cake [as it were] and totally take away from Glenn's pictures of beautiful children dutifully avoiding biffy shots....I really need to tell you how I learned this story. My friend and I were in Vancouver for a business dinner; I was the guest of honor and he was the guest [we were doing a project together]. We were in a cab driving from downtown Van to Burnaby -- not a quick trip. So to pass the time in traffic, we told stories. Very quietly, matter-of-factly, and in an even almost monotonous tone, he began to weave a story about being in Africa. His tone, his voice, lulled me into a nice easy story mode....until he came to the punch line about the slug....which made me scream in disgust to such a decible that the cab driver [who was also intently listening to us] nearly drove off the road. It's one of those moments that hover there combining intrigue, disbelief, enticement and disgust to such an intense degree that once you retrieve your senses and sensibilities, all you can do is laugh...which we all three did. There is nothing like a great story told by a good story teller!!!

Sorry for diverting our focus onto biffies and away from schooling about biffies.....and pictures of beautiful children. But I simply couldn't resist. For all my education, I remain basically attuned to the realities of daily BMs.