I know that you probably feel that I am fascinated by either 1) food or 2) latrines. And you would be right. I spend a vast quantity of any given day on one of these two issues and not just personally – but also professionally. When half of your job is finding out why people are starving or ill these two things are bound to come up.
So, it should come as no surprise today as I was headed off to our pit latrine and about to walk into a cholera outbreak meeting that I was thinking about toilets. I was thinking mostly about why we have them. I don’t know if you think about this on anything resembling a regular basis but I know that I usually don’t. At home, I don’t know how to turn off the water in my house, much less where it comes from. I don’t know which wires carry electricity to my house in which volts and where it comes from. You get the idea. And neither do I care much as long as it works. In the field, you know about all these things – intimately – and probably a little too much. You know because not knowing means that you could have faecal matter in your drinking water and that, my friends, is how you get cholera.
Anyway, it struck me that the fundamental reason we have toilets is not so that our houses don’t stink, or because it’s a polite way to do ones business - we, fundamentally, have toilets so that we don’t die of cholera. If we didn’t have ways of taking our waste and moving it as far from us and others as possible the odds are that we would still be dealing with cholera and the bubonic plague and then the only thing that would separate us from the middle ages would be reality television. And is that really the accomplishment we want to boast of after several thousand years of human development? Nope…I would go with toilets any day.