Friday, 4 October 2013


Newly dug, just for Tuula and me.
Toilet humour is everywhere. Seeing as my last few posts have been reasonably serious, I thought it time to be a little bit silly, as serious as sanitation is.

Loo, long drop, dunny, outhouse, thunderbox, watercloset, facilities, bathroom, restroom, liklik haus…so many names, but just one function. Some many forms, but still the same function.

In Milne Bay, the toilet is often over the water, at the end of a long, slippery, wobbly, narrow, bamboo walkway. It is the sort of walkway locals wander along without thinking, but I treat with all the care of a gymnast on a balance beam, for fear of falling into the mangrove mud or ocean water below. Thankfully, when Tuula and I visited the Anuki people, they were kind enough to dig us an onshore toilet where we could squat in safety. Still, when we visited other villages, we had to brave the walkway.

The ocean loo, for the brave and balanced
Going to the toilet at night in the village is always a challenge, as women should not be out alone at night. This can mean waking a friend to accompany you, holding on till dawn or other creative alternatives…but never drinking kulau (green coconut milk) in the late afternoon, else you will have to go before dawn. I understand why translator friends save money to build an indoor toilet in their village house.

For village living, our waspapa (host father) was asked to build us a new toilet, just for us. On one of the preparation visits which our staff did before we arrived, one of the staff needed to go, so asked where the toilet was. She was lead down a slippery path, away from the village to a well used toilet. Afterwards, when she expressed concern that they still needed to build the toilet for their guests, they  then pointed out the new toilet, right beside the house we would be staying in and explained that it was only for us. Sorry Ginny, but our Papa was looking out for us!

Our village outhouse: death to mice and home to snakes
We had an amusing incident during village living in which a mouse nearly drowned in a bucket of water, but escaped. Being thrown off the verandah with the water meant it nearly died of concussion, but it escaped again. As it was recovering from the impact with the ground, it was nearly eaten by a chicken, but escaped again. It ran to the nearest available shelter, the toilet.  Here, it fell into the hole and was yet again faced with drowning. It is hard to use a toilet when you can hear a small animal splashing below you. It wasn’t heard from again, but if it drowned or was eaten by the snake who sometimes lived in the roof of our toilet, we do not know.

In New Ireland we were given the use of the VIP toilets, right on the foreshore, with a lovely view and breeze to go with it. Some toilets have ‘sea breeze’ deodorisers. This just had a sea breeze. The common toilet in some of these areas is the beach, below the tideline where nature provides a twice daily flush. As much as I love to swim in the ocean, it is no longer so appealing when it also functions as the public toilet.

Sea breeze loo with a view
On road trips and town trips in PNG, I deliberately don’t drink enough, as the mild headache at the end of the day it preferable to the road side options available. Thankfully, in bigger towns, my skin colour gives me permission to use the toilets in fancy hotels. It is an injustice, I know, but I admit to appreciating it when the smell of the public options reaches me. Flying in our small planes, strapped in with a full harness and no facilities is another time for deliberate dehydration.

Although toilets may make an amusing topic for tale swapping (competing?), they are also a serious issue. Good sanitation and the separation of drinking water from toilets are two issues which make enormous differences to public health. If you’d like to purchase a toilet for somewhere in the developing world, there are many options, including these two

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