Thursday, January 18, 2007

contains images that may disturb some viewers

<-- The toilet in all its glory (it has great mountain views)

What could possibly disturb people? Nowadays in any movie, TV show or news program you can see women giving men blowjobs, men hacking the arms off victims, disembowelled bodies, women giving birth, sweaty and screaming as the sticky gloopy baby head crowns through the close up of the wiry vagina. None of these are truly taboo anymore. So what is? What never gets shown on TV? What really truly might disturb the majority of viewers?


Yes poo. We don't talk about it, we don't deal with it and we sure as hell never want to see it.

So here it is, a cutting edge blog entry on poo.

As you may recall, we have a rather rudimentary lavatory system. Today I emptied out the composting toilet in preparation for the new tenants, who fortunately were not dismayed by the rustic facilities. Emptying a composting toilet is not nearly as bad as you might imagine, and rather a fascinating exercise in the mechanics of composting. Because of your avid attention to my previous entry on this subject, you are aware of how the toilet works: basically, after each contribution, visitors need to add an equivalent volume of dry sawdust. This maintains an excellent ratio of carbon to nitrogen for effective composting, as well as drying out the contents of the bin somewhat. Covering poo with sawdust also stops it smelling - truly, our toilet does not stink. The problem with traditional longdrops (ie digging a deep hole in the ground then building a toilet over the top) is a) there is no air circulating around them so the bugs can't survive and b) people generally don't use sawdust. Likewise, those commercial composting toilets that are in national parks usually don't have sawdust provided, which is why they often smell. As a composting toilet fills up (this takes a year or two), the dry composted matter moves forward toward the front of the bin. (I don't know why - the bugs must do it). Usually when I empty the toilet, this is the stuff I take out.

The first time I did this with great
trepidation. See that yellow piece of corrugated iron at the front of the toilet above? It's held in there with bricks. I take off the bricks, remove the iron and there's our pile of poo. For some reason, the first time I did this I expected to find perfectly preserved poo - stacked up in little turd piles with layers of toilet paper in between. But of course it is not. Composted poo is a dark, dryish soil. It looks rich and clean and good. It doesn't smell at all, and it has very few bugs in it - just a few shiny black-backed beetles trundling around. Today of course I had to work through the layers, as I have to completely clean out the toilet for our tenants. If it was a proper commercial toilet I wouldn't bother doing this, but ours is rather a hands-on toilet so I don't want to leave the tenants the legacy of our last six months' poo.

The middle layer, I discovered, is the main business centre. It's damper and darker than the completed stuff, and it is heaving with bugs. The dirt is actually moving up and down, as if it is breathing, or a bowl of water that is shimmering slightly. Small white bugs, dot-sized black bugs, long fat centipedes with big red pincers, and burrowing grubs hurry hither and thither. I felt like I was watching a city from a great height - everyone is going about their business with great purpose.

<-- Finished composted poo - see, it's not so bad

The back layer - the freshest stuff - is the only part that actually smells, and even then only when I dig into it. In the normal course of a
composting toilet's life you wouldn't dig this stuff out. The main residents here are fat pearly white grubs, tangles of them working their way through the poo. As the light hits them they dig down frantically, burrowing into the pile. This part of the job, admittedly, was fairly disgusting. But worth it. I think our fear of poo is one of the things that has led Western societies to where we are now. Check us out - mixing up ponds of sludge and flushing vast lakes of poo far away out to sea and now exporting 'sanitation' to developing countries so they can use their precious water reserves. And recycling water!! Doesn't it strike you as odd that we expend vast amounts of infrastructure on ways to mix our poo with water, and now we are building giant systems to remove it again?

At least I can say, 'I know how to deal with my shit'.


Anonymous said...

You are certainly closer to nature than I thought - do hope you were wearing gloves. Remind me in the future that I will do the food preparation at any gathering we have!

Mikhela said...

I only do the poo every six months! - and anyway, can you believe it, ALL the flats we looked at to rent in Brisbane had FLUSHING toilets.

Susoz said...

The Chinese used to (probably still do) use human poo for agricultural manure. I once read a novel by Han Suyin that had fascinating detailed descriptions of the collection and transport (by people) of poo from towns to countryside.