Every day when I am at home, I sit on my toilet and poop. Sometimes I read a book. Sometimes I sit and think. Sometimes I do nothing but poop. I almost always light a candle afterwards to redeem the smell of place. Because I have my own toilet, this is a part of my daily life when I am home.
I am sorry if you are disgusted by this topic, but it is important. I talk about water all the time, but I rarely mention the other parts – which include the unmentionable toilet. Time for that to change. My reason is this: dignity is important (not to mention health on so many levels).
One of the most important things in the above list is that I was able to use “my” toilet. Also, I am confident that, should I need to poop when I am at work or running errands or at a friend’s house, I could do so in private. I would not have to try and bottle it up and wait until the cover of dark or until a rare toilet was available to me.
When I travel in Africa, I do have that worry. I am thankful I am ‘regular’ – which means that when I need to poop, I can use the toilet in my hotel room. As for urinating, I often do not drink enough during the day and end up slightly dehydrated simply so that there does not have to be a hunt for a toilet (latrine) for the white woman, the guest. (While I am physically comfortable peeing in the bush, it is often not culturally appropriate, and is not a good example of hygiene or sanitation practices.) This is not something I actively think about, but is always something running in the back of my head. Probably not all that different than it is for the African girls I am visiting – except it is a part of their daily life. If a girl does not have a latrine, she has to decide if she will poop (or urinate) during daylight hours (when a man could be watching) or in the dark (when a man could harm her). This is a basic, necessary bodily function, but she has to decide which is the lesser of two evils. Also, she has to decide whether to drink enough or to try and hold her urine (or poop) in until there is an ‘appropriate’ time and location to empty herself. She has to choose health or dignity – if you can consider either option dignifying.
If you are a woman, take a moment and think about this. If you are a man, take a moment and think about your mother, your sister, your wife or your daughter. What would you want for them?
I am so often asked about the water projects – the wells and the rain tanks. Clean water is sexy and appealing. I am almost never asked about the toilets, about where people can poop with dignity. But I think about them all the time. Especially when I poop in my toilet, in my very private bathroom. If you want to make my day, ask me about sanitation in Africa, ask about latrine projects. I will smile because I will know you care about a girl’s dignity.