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* Chef de Cabinet (part I)

August 11, 2015

One of the areas of expertise I’ve developed in life (think the 10,000 hours rule) relates to outhouses. In Malagasy, the new word for this was <<lava-piringa>>, but most people used the French terms of “WC” or “cabinet” (see above, as VIP latrinethis is what I was “Chef“–French for “Chief”–of). In fact, at one point in time I claimed to be one Madagascar’s leading experts on outhouses. Which I followed up by saying, “Primarily because no one else was interested in them.” At least at that time.

And in this case, I can claim some expertise, which started with a Bachelors of Civil Engineering, where I focused on Water and Sanitation. This was followed by a Masters in Agricultural Engineering, where I looked at what in the 1980s was called “Appropriate Technology.” Which included outhouses. In fact, back in those days the World Bank was hooking up instrumentation to what they called “VIP” (Ventilated Improved Pit) Latrines, with the ventilation (and thus reduced smell) coming from a vent pipe (see drawing to right). The instrumentation was used to measure air flow, how many flies were caught by the screen on the end of the vent, etc.

All of which is why one day, on the outskirts of Vangaindrano, a small town on the east coast of Madagascar, I ended up in the bottom of a hole that had been rapidly getting deeper until I’d grabbed the shovel and
digging a latrinejumped in. Having shoveled enough to entertain the whole village which was watching our efforts to build several latrines for the Toby (I’ll write more about these later), I crawled out of the hole to let the next person in. Standing by the hole was an elder, an older man who had seen much in his life. He was still laughing at my efforts, but then said something I’ll never forget: “The French forced us to dig latrines. At gunpoint. As in, they pointed guns at us and said, ‘Dig!’ It’s nice to see you folks are using a different method.”

Wow! Talk about contrasting methods of how to “encourage” change!

Which was just one of many lessons I had on the necessity of listening to my elders.

[to be continued]

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From → Madagascar

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