Thursday, August 13, 2009

But... where do you go to the bathroom out there?!?

[NOTE: PLEASE IGNORE THE RANDOM BLACK SPECK IN THE UPPER RIGHT QUADRAT OF ALL OF THESE PHOTOS. SOME IRRITATING PROBLEM WITH MY LENS, I THINK. GRRRR.]

This is one of the most common questions I get, so I decided to let you know all about our bush bathroom!



I go to the bathroom in a long drop "choo" (Swahili for toilet, rhymes with "yo", not "you"). When you enter in the "front door",



You can see it's a big hole dug in the sand, with a toilet seat on it, surrounded by a wooden frame wrapped with muslin on all sides and open on the top.



We make sure there's plenty of toilet paper, and insect spray - which you can see tucked away behind a post on the right - for the flies that invariably like to hang out there.

To discourage the flies, we also scoop sand from these buckets and throw it down into the hole to cover the, uh, stuff.



Unfortunately, whoever designed this toilet seat - with the ring part made of wood, but the rest made of metal - didn't think about the possibility that one might needi to sit on the seat in the middle of a hot day. The metal heats up, and it's QUITE unpleasant.



A very important issue when you need to use the bush bathroom is to make sure no one's in there. Since the canvas is a little see-through, walking up and knocking isn't really an option. So we have the choo flag system - an orange bandana on the top of a stick. When you first walk into the choo, the flag is down.



To let others know you're in there, you put the flag up, and it can be seen from anywhere in camp.



Seems simple, right? Well the problem is this: if you walk out of the choo and forget to put the flag DOWN, everyone still thinks someone's in there. Sometimes there's a line of people waiting to go, and no one's actually inside! Leaving the choo flag up can be a real social snafu. We've tried to construct the flag so that you HAVE TO put it down in order to leave the choo, insuring no one is hanging around nearby hopping from one foot to the other, but it's never worked. However, I'm thrilled to report that this year one of the graduate students working at the site designed an elaborate solution to this perpetual problem, and apparently there was not *one* *single* *instance* of the choo flag being left up. My hats off to you, DL.

It works like this: when you put the choo flag up, another thick branch automatically gets lowered in front of the door (you can see it in this picture).



When you put the flag down, the branch moves back up, sort of like a lever. If you don't put the flag back down, you can't actually walk out the door without walking into the branch.

Genius. :)

There's some anti-bacterial hand gel to use when you're done (it's on the left),



or you can wash your hands back at your tent, since we all have a jerrycan of water and a plastic basin in front of our tents...





...for hand washing, face washing, hair washing... a tantalizing introduction to tomorrow's post, all you ever wanted to know about bathing in the bush but were afraid to ask. :) Stay tuned!