Sunday, October 25, 2009

“The Ins and Outs of Water” by Tammi; 25 Oct 2009

I dug into my stash of blogspot drafts this week and pulled out this one:


Inside the boys' dorm privy

After my tours of Southeast Asia I was a little concerned that
when I came to Ghana I might be dealing with a potentially tedious “potty” situation for 27 months. I was relieved to learn, however, that a toilet in Ghana very closely resembles our American toilet. Thankfully, my preparations in moving to Ghana did NOT have to include daily workouts of thigh-numbing squat exercises.

Having said this, however, there are certainly differences in the types and availability of facilities. Water is a precious commodity, and most people in Ghana have to haul their daily water supply from the local well or bore hole. The water source may be a 20 minute trek one way. And as you might imagine, carrying a large container of water on one’s head, up a hill, under the African sun, can be a workout. So with the lack of conveniently piped water, there are more urinals and pit toilets in Ghana than flush toilets.



School urinal (with designated areas for boys on one side, girls on the other side, and teachers in the middle)

I have learned some things about water consumption in the time that I have been living here. First, it’s amazing how much water it takes to flush a toilet! Second, it takes much less effort to collect rain water from a roof than it does to pull buckets of water from a well. Third, conservation.

Do you remember when you used to leave the faucet run all the while that you brushed your teeth? (I hope none of you do that anymore). To me it now seems equally ridiculous to do this when you shower! I can take a very respectable bucket bath with less than 1/3 the amount of water it takes to flush just once. And when we have running water for a shower I can use even less. If you are one of those people who are now in shock due to your knowledge of my showering habits in a “former life”, please take this moment to pick your jaw up from the floor. I’m serious! Admittedly it may also be that my new behavior is encouraged by our lack of a hot water heater. But I’m hoping to take my water conserving habits home with me nonetheless.

A great experiment for the American public would be for everyone to haul their own water for just a few days. I’ll bet our water consumption (or water waste) would plummet as a result.


Primary and junior high students hauled water to mix cement for a new building addition. The small stream is over ¼ mile away.

Back to toilets-
  • Pit toilets-common
  • Flush toilets-not necessarily uncommon unless you are traveling and really need to find one
  • Urinals-hmmm
Until I moved to Ghana, I did not know that women use urinals. The urinals here are typically flat cement slabs (or bare ground) with ¾ height partitions around the sides. Some have a men’s side and a women’s side. Some are unisex. But it doesn’t matter because all are constructed the same way – just a cement slab with a hole that opens to the outside at the base of one wall. That’s it. They vary a little bit. Sometimes the “privacy” partitions are cement and sometimes plywood or woven palm fronds. And sometimes the really fancy ones have a shallow trough built into the floor to help guide the yellow river to the drain hole. Regardless, you don’t normally want to be downwind from these “structures” on a hot day and suffice it to say that washing of shoes is a regular chore in Ghana.


Another girls' room on campus


Inside a newer urinal

I’ve learned to fast on travel days and am in awe of myself that I can go all day without a potty stop. On long tro-tro rides, sometimes other passengers will request a pit stop at which point the driver will pull to the side and a few people jump out and relieve themselves roadside. I’ve seen more johnsons in Ghana alone than I thought I’d ever see in a lifetime. And No, it’s NOT because I’m trying to look. In fact it’s hard to avoid catching a glimpse when you are surrounded by so many free-ranging wankies.


Fellow PCV, Toby, steps a few feet away from our table to relieve himself in the "privacy" of the establishment’s urinal.

Of course it’s easy for the men. But I’ve also seen some women that have adapted to the difficult circumstances. I am here to tell you that some Ghanaian women can pee standing up! Once I got over the initial shock of seeing that maneuver, I found it to be enviable. But for so many reasons I’m not about to try it myself.

1 comment:

travelgirl said...

Tammi,
This is all very fascinating. Hope you and Chris are doing well. I looked at Chris's desk at the gallery show at ISU. A wonderful piece. I had a small work published in the online gallery. I'm still thinking about applying to the Peace Corps especially since it's been 8 months now without a job.

Sheri