Taking simple toilets, indoor plumbing and access to clean water for granted are some of the many benefits of living in a developed country. As a matter of fact, for most Americans, using the bathroom is an easy process. You use the toilet, wipe, flush and go about your day (hopefully after you’ve washed your hands) and that’s the beginning and end of that process. No other thought as to how the toilet works or what type of paper you can or cannot flush is needed. In truth, the actual idea of not having a toilet is something we relegate to heavily rural areas, camping or being outdoors – it’s a one-off experience or a special circumstance. We couldn’t even fathom doing this daily or even the replications of poor sanitation.
I was born and raised in Oklahoma, so I guess you can say I’m no stranger to using outdoor facilities or a lack thereof. However, it was March 2015 when I became closer to nature than I wanted to.
I was with a group in Pushkar, India with no restroom facilities in sight. Many of the ladies were limiting their intake of fluids, while others were just outright holding everything in and refusing to relieve themselves without being in the “proper” environment. A few others and I weren’t trying to make the ride back to Jaipur with full bladders. Those days for me are over! We found a nice spot on the side of a building to relieve ourselves, and we literally formed a human wall to shield us and create a little “privacy.” It seemed like every young boy in Pushkar was there to witness us take turns using the restroom. They had climbed on top of the roof of the building to take a glance of our rear-ends, and although we had onlookers, we were determined to complete our mission.
As we were taking turns doing our business, a cow came wandering over to our makeshift wall, literally standing there, starring each of us in our eyes with no shame or plan to move. That moment in time formed a lifetime bond amongst the ladies and I. It will always be the story where one can mention “Pushkar” and “cow,” and we all can giggle taking us back to that day.
– Michelle Jackson
As intrepid travelers, the challenges associated with the many ways and places people release around the world help expand our reality and allow us to see just how complicated sanitation can actually be. If you’ve ever rolled up on a Japanese electronic toilet with its bells and whistles and you’ve sprayed your butthole or heated the seat instead of flushed, then you likely want to tell someone. It’s funny. Yet, if you’ve ever been shown a hole in the ground and been given leaves or chopped corn cobs instead of toilet paper, then you likely won’t tell anyone! Not so funny. This taboo of the poo is part of the problem with global sanitation. Let me explain…
According to a Business Mirror article, the World Bank estimates that over 2 billion people drank water that was contaminated with feces in 2015. This needs context…hypothetically; if you took the entire population of Europe, North America, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Oceania and lined them up for a fresh glass of poop tainted water, you’d still be a little over 210 million people short of the World Bank’s estimates. That’s horrific! The improper disposal and treatment of waste is such a massive issue that most of us are drinking it and aren’t even aware. Those who are aware understand that bacteria from fecal matter can cause cholera, typhoid, infectious hepatitis, polio, cryptosporidiosis, and ascariasis and in some developing countries, something as simple as diarrhea can lead to death. It’s estimated that 1.2 million children will die from diarrhea and related diseases this year alone. Not so funny.
Halfway up the Balinese mountain, my stomach ached. We paused for group meditation at a scenic point. Stealthily, I went into some bushes and took a huge dump. The pile looked like it belonged to a cow. I used my panty to wipe my behind and covered everything with cocoa leaves.
So why is this such an issue?
Global Citizen, an NGO and massive platform of Global Citizens from around the world working together to solve problems, states: “Sanitation is crucial to global health. But sanitation suffers from political neglect at every level. There is a sense of shame and stigma attached to the issue that prevents it from being a high profile political issue.” So basically… it’s taboo to talk about poo!
Interestingly enough, some of the benefits of improved sanitation, according to Global Citizen, include: “saving time, reducing direct and indirect health costs, increasing the return on investments in education, and safeguarding water resources.” The World Health Organization agrees and states that: “in addition to the value of saved human lives, other benefits include higher economic productivity, more education, and health-care savings.” They estimate that for every dollar invested in sanitation the return is valued at up to eight dollars!
When you line up the negatives of improper sanitation alongside the positives of proper sanitation, the positives clearly win, and the shame associated with actually talking about poo appears ridiculous and minuscule. But, of course, the taboo of poo isn’t the only reason why poor sanitation persists. It’s the makeshift toilets, the constant and open defecation, the illegal dumping and leaking sewage tanks. Unfortunately, the taboo of poo keeps these things going because those who can do something about it are uncomfortable even talking about it, so the cycle continues.
Here’s where you, the intrepid traveler, comes in… share your poo chronicles! Many of us see this shit (pun intended) first hand, and our embarrassment about taking that grand mal dump in, on, around, and – seriously fill in the preposition – that hole, river, or musty inoperable bathroom with the overflowing toilet and crap on the walls (flashback sorry) only exacerbates the problem. Share the funny. Share the not so funny. And more importantly, the next time you contemplate burning all the clothes you wore into that stall, think about how you can get involved and help address a crappy situation.