My joints don’t like getting down or getting up these days, so picnics on the ground are no longer fun. But here in Australia there are so many parks with excellent facilities that we can sit at shaded tables with gas BBQs even in most country towns. There are roadside toilets along the roads, and in many parts of Australia many stretches of road, with so little traffic that you can safely just go behind a tree!
Not so in most parts of Africa. Without going into details there were a number of amusing/trying situations.
We built two new toilets at the Leprosy hospital – septic systems. An introduction to Life in Africa We had to employ guards outside them. If we put toilet paper rolls inside they were stolen. If we didn’t people used banana leaves or corn, neither of which septic systems are made to deal with. So we had guards posted on 24 hour duty, exchanging whatever for a generous issue of TP. (Maybe of interest is that the majority of Africans eating their normal diet, which is very high in fibre, have 2-4 bowel motions per day – hence the 24 hour duty roster for the guards!)
Cafe toilets were sometimes well cared for. You tended to remember those places and to stop there when travelling if possible. Some cafes you just couldn’t bear to enter the toilets and so rather chose roadside stops. The long distance buses had periodic pit stops along the way, where everybody got off and tried to find a semi-private spot, hopefully behind a tree or over a slope in the ground. These stops were easier for the men. You got used to them.
When travelling in our car we sometimes had the need to stop along the road. You would try to find a quiet looking area, pull over, and immediately you would begin to collect a crowd. Out of thin air! We got to know one spot with a clump of lantana bushes with a path into the middle. While I entertained the group, mainly children, on the other side of the road, my wife would enter the hidden sanctum. As it was on our regular route to the big city we would stop there even when matters weren’t urgent both going and returning. There weren’t many spots like that.
The nastiest situation that we dealt with was at the school which our adopted son Solomon attended. Solomon – the third teenager He would always come home during breaks as we lived close by.
The school had been started by expats and had an extensive septic system. It was now a government school. At this time the school had for some time run out of money, so the local government had cut off the water to the school because they couldn’t pay their water bill. Without water, but still being used by hundreds of kids the system was overflowing. It stank. Fortunately it was a bit of a distance from the class rooms, but if you went to within 20 or 30 metres of the system it stank. The children must have got used to it as they still had to use it. As mentioned above our son Solomon refused to use it, and came home during lesson breaks. We lived nearby.
We had a visit from the Australian High Commissioner from Nairobi. He graciously agreed to pay the overdue water bill. My wife and I hired a large sewage emptying truck from a city about 150 km away, and then paid a guard to stay outside and supply paper if/as required. The school heavies were very grateful. The guard confiscated all other varieties of alternative TP. It didn’t become spotless but was much more hygienic.
Oh, the joys of the simple life!