Conversations on Ablutions

I was quite impressed as a young teenager, to be sitting on the first flush toilet in our house in the village in Greece. I was even more impressed when I pulled the chain on the cistern and steam appeared from the bowl. The village plumbers who had installed the geyser and toilet had no idea what either was for, and probably thought the hot water was needed to disinfect the toilet.

The geyser is in the same, and at that stage, the one and only bathroom of the house. It lies exposed above the bath. To this day it is safer to switch the geyser off at the mains, rather than risked being shocked when showering. Perhaps the installers thought it evil to wash every day and needed to remind us of our wrongdoing.

My father used to do the “crap patrol” every morning after his walk. We were not allowed to flush anything down the toilet except body waste. The toilet paper would have blocked up the small septic tank. So it was deposited in a little bin and he would burn it outside.

The original toilet for the house was a long drop in the front yard. It was built of red bricks, unplastered, and the wooden door faced the kitchen door. The outhouse had no roof, and if you stood on the front veranda upstairs you could see the head of the person in the facility. There was no toilet seat, just a precast slab over the hole with imprints for your feet. As a child I struggled because my feet were not big enough and I was always scared I would fall into the hole. When the house was full, the men and boys were expected to use the outhouse, with the 44 gallon upright drum inside, holding ashes from the “crap patrol”.

It was odd to see my father doing the dirtiest of jobs in the house, where in South Arica he did no cleaning at all. Once, at home in Johannesburg, my mother complained that he never helped with the dishes. It was a light hearted jab in front of family and friends. In fairness she never expected him to help anyway. But he said he would that day. After the meal, he picked up the four corners of the table cloth and pulled them together, sliding the contents into an improvised bag and deposited this on the scullery floor. Clearing table and dishwashing was not his strong point.

Summer in the village was fine. Sometimes I ran the hose pipe up the veranda and showered underneath it outside in the front courtyard. But in winter it was different, running across the cobbled stone courtyard to the outhouse and exposing your backside to the cold above the deep hole.

Eventually with the building of a bathroom upstairs for my mother, the outhouse was demolished. I spent less and less time in the village and the “crap patrol” degenerated to a municipal waste collection function.

With the municipal collection came the need for landfill sites. The village got wind of the plans of one of its son’s, the town engineer of Tripolis, to propose a landfill site for the whole of Arcadia behind the village, in the   vicinity of Agios Nectarios. They blocked him on that, and I am sure he lost a lot of money in the deal. He should have done the “crap patrol”. He might have learnt something.

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