Thursday, August 01, 2013

Outhouses and Toilets

Photo courtesy of Nicolas Nova

Nothing is as common to all travelers as the toilet. I’ve been in many different countries and experienced many different toilets and outhouses. Outhouses have different names; latrine, Andy-Gump, honey-pot and in Boy Scouts we called them Kybos. When travelling through Latvia some years ago there was a wide discrepancy of toilets and outhouses which had no relationship to the toilets’ location. In the opera house in Latvia the toilet was simply a hole in the ground. In French speaking countries and in Latvia the nicer holes in the ground had marked places to set your feet. These were often indicated either by symbol or diagram of a foot. The key of course was to set your foot far enough out from the target.

There are of course Bidets as toilets of which I am not overly fond.  My daughter dislikes anything that doesn’t flush.  Though they have come up with some very nice chemical Honey-Pots in recent years she still will not use anything that doesn’t flush unless there is absolutely no other choice.

Why all this talk of toilets anyway?  I was reminded of the various differences in toilets on our recent trip to Guatemala.  Before we even got there we had a discussion about my previous experience as an exchange student in Mexico, where the toilet was a normal flush-toilet but the paper was put in a trash receptacle next to the toilet and not flushed.  I used the toilet in the Guatemala airport and it was wonderfully nice and clean.  The only thing lacking was a toilet seat but you could still sit on it and flush it.  A great delight!

Where does the waste go?  This is an important issue to date even in my city.  We are switching from Septic to city sewage due to concerns with the groundwater.  At Mercy House in Guatemala they just put in a new outhouse.  The design is very practical and deals with all these toilet issues.  The outhouse is built with a wall separating the liquid (aka Number 1) from solid (Number 2).  Apparently much of the issues re smell and seepage in outhouses comes from mixing the two.  If using the outhouse for poop, the poop is then covered with ash.  After a significant amount of time the waste can be dug up as the outhouse is cleaned and used for fertilizer. 

There you have it---a short post on the joys and experiences of toilets which may seem crass to some.  If you’ve ever had to use the toilet in a foreign country or badly kept gas station stateside I think you can relate---and have some porta-potty stories of your own.

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