Pictures from Senegal

Wednesday, March 30

Toilet Woes

My Western Toilet
I’ve dealt with mice invasions, leaky roofs during rainy season, and getting screens put in my windows… but none of these has been more inconvenient than the near two week long incident that has come about with my toilet.
Well longer, if you count my ignorance to the mild leakage of water from some unknown place in my bathroom cubby. It took me a while to figure out it wasn’t me being clumsy during my daily laundry. It took me a bit longer to realize that the problem was related to my toilet. But the whole situation compounded when I left Mboro for nearly a week. Upon my return, the bowl of my toilet was completely empty. Hmm.

Ok, so I flushed it… and within 30 seconds the contents of the bowl had dispersed across my bathroom floor. Upon closer inspection I discover that the water is leaking out the base of the toilet, through a crack in the cement seal. Since the water’s out of the bowl and things can be seen a bit clearer, I decide to capitalize and hit up the inside bowl with some bleach and a scrub brush. While it makes me feel better to scrub up some of the gook down there, I may have jumped the gun. Apparently what I had been assuming was indefinable must-go growth in my toilet may have actually been a cement patch left by my predecessor, for as soon as I let up on the upper body workout scrubbing I realized I was left with an awful looking crack in the bottom of my bowl.

My bathroom, as I call it, is comprised of a four foot square nook in the corner of my bedroom; three complete walls plus one half close it off from my bedroom come office and the rest of the world. It contains a sink, a toilet, a short sprinkler-esque hose (ahem, portable bidet because I don’t use T.P.), and a shelf. The floor rests about one inch below the rest of my beautiful bedroom tile, so when it floods (and this isn’t the first time) I have a bit of a margin to rectify the problem.

Pape and the Cement
I started to address my latest problem by talking to my Mom, leader of the pack and most likely to get things accomplished in a reasonable time frame, who suggested talking to my father because he has a plumber cousin. Dad takes one look at the cracks and concludes that the exterior base of the unit needs a new ring of cement. He’ll get one of my brothers to do it. I should’ve have asked more detail, but he was out the door before I got the chance. The next day, I ask him how much the cement would cost and where I should buy it. “We have cement in the back yard, I’ll get your brother to take care of it” -and then he’s out the door again. I swear most of our conversations only take place because I manage to catch him before he runs out the door. Later that day I catch him once more and he tells me to hand my brother 100 cfa (or 20¢) so that he can get another type of cement to mix with what is on hand. Great, done.

Patch Work...
Next day I set about catching my brother before he heads out to his afternoon schedule of soccer matches. “Can you please fix my toilet today? I have a guest coming.” Pape had already acquired the necessary materials and was able to get to work right away. He set about to spreading what I roughly calculate as three times as much cement than was needed around the base of my toilet. I resolve to let this hefty patch take a full forty-eight hours to dry and cross ‘fix toilet’ off my to-do list.

In the mean time, my guest arrives. He and I become a part of the consistent queue to use my family’s sole bathroom (toilet and shower) and there are now eleven people jockeying for time in there. It’s more than fun. Murphy’s Law gives me diarrhea. Thanks… I always wanted to fear shitting my pants AND dealing with it in front of everyone. Mother Nature sees fit to throw my period into the mix. Wasn’t that nice of her? Also (seriously, can you believe there’s an also?), my family doesn’t have the handy little spray bidet- because it’s broken- so we are left using a tea pot that no one seems to remember to refill. And speaking of no one, that’s who’s taught my brothers how to flush the toilet after each use. I don’t know how else to describe this picture- oh wait there is soap available only half the time- so that about covers the fun.

... Finished Seal
And about now you can image how forty-eight long hours later, when I pull the trigger to flush my newly repaired toilet and the water disappears from the bowl once more, I’m nearly in tears. I hold it together for the sake of my guest (who’s here for the week). But I’m not kidding you when I say I’m overly paranoid that this may never get resolved, so much so that I consider for the millionth time calling someone in the medical office about quitting Mefloquine (which heightens paranoia as a side effect). When my Dad takes a second look he concludes that the mystery local for the departing water is the foundation of the house, and that we’d probably have to change the whole toilet.

I know from that moment on, Peace Corps was going to have to get involved. I can’t finance the installation of a new toilet on my own, but that’s ok because PC can and does support volunteers in this regard. Then it occurs to me, who am I going to call? Normally, I’d call my APCD (Assistant Peace Corps Director) but mine recently left the post vacant. So then it became a guessing game… Do I call medical because no toilet equals increased sickness? Do I call the property manager because this is property that seriously needs to be managed?

Luckily, my training coordinator was scheduled to visit Mboro the next day. I capitalized on this situation by sharing my toilet woes and asking for his advice.” Yes, you will need a new toilet. Call this man,” and he gives me the number. The short version of this section of my story is that I made many phone calls that ended with a sigh and another number I should call. Feeling the paranoia creep back into my life, I took a deep breath and called the highest post in PC Senegal- the Country Director- and calmly explained my situation. “I have a quote and a toilet lined up, I know a guy who can install it, all I need is someone to tell me ‘It’s ok to replace your toilet; Peace Corps will reimburse you for it.’” And I kid you not, he repeated that exact phrase back to me “It’s ok to replace your toilet; Peace Corps will reimburse you for it.” Take that bathroom and paranoia!

New Toilet, Seat and Cover!
I hike it down to the hardware store where my Mom has already negotiated the price of my new toilet at 35,000 cfa (or $70). I pay and get a receipt (that the Country Director has promised to personally sign off on!). I call my Dad to come pick up the new unit with his car and he says “sure, later.” Mom comes by the store and offers to take it back in a taxi with her. Later that evening my Dad’s cousin comes by to take a look at the job, we negotiate a price of 5,000 cfa (or $10) for labor, and he promises to come back the next afternoon. I set about clearing my agenda and accomplishing all that I need to the next morning. When I return to the house just before lunch, I find that my toilet has already been replaced and the plumber is packing up. As luck would have it, his morning job wasn’t ready so my mom used her key to let him into my room. I immediately feel paranoid that I need to double check nothing has been stolen from my unattended room- but as far as I can tell nothing was touched. He makes sure to demonstrate twice that my new model is a push button flush as opposed to the old model and its lever pull variety. He warns me to wait until the evening (for a smaller pile of base cement to dry) before I christen my new toilet. This model comes with the only ceramic toilet seat and cover I’ve seen in the country… and I couldn’t be happier.

There comes a time in every volunteer’s service when something goes wrong in your room, hut or house. The problem is nothing more than simple wear and tear can feel like mountain that must be crossed. In the beginning it always felt like I didn’t have a map. How do I tell my family about the problem without offending them and their house? Where can I buy a toilet? Who will install it? How do I say all those words in French or Wolof? And how do I navigate the Peace Corps maze? These are the occurrences that make for bonding moments as you turn to family or village members for comfort and help. And as you go along a map seems to magically develop. The next problem that comes along you’ll know where to start the convo, where to get the parts, and which estranged family member is going to come around to help you. And best of all, you learn how to say words like “flood” in different languages. 

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