I’ll start off by saying that I really like my house here. My community built me a really nice ravinala house. It’s spacious, the thatched roof and cement floor keep things relatively cool and there’s a big yard with a huge tree providing shade. They did a really good job on the house. I can’t say the same for my latrine, however. It’s not that I have anything against outdoor bathrooms. I actually learned to really like them the last time I was here. There’s no real routine maintenance needed and in a country where the indoor plumbing that does exist is usually malfunctioning, I’ve found that going to the bathroom in a hole can actually be preferable to using a toilet.
I have been having issues with my kabone since I got here. I don’t know what my community was thinking when they built it to be perfectly honest. For some reason, they decided to build my bathroom – something that I would have to use multiple times a day – in the one spot that floods every single time it rains. The east coast has a pretty considerable rainy season, so it has been flooded most of the time since I arrived. It’s not like they didn’t have other options. My kabone is about 50 meters from my house, you can’t even see it from here, I had to hunt for it when I first moved in. There are plenty of other spaces much closer to my house that I have never once seen flooded. So why, Morarano? Why did you build my kabone in a place that is flooded for half the year?
I’m guessing this lapse in judgment is due to the fact that there are no other kabones in Morarano. The people here just go to the bathroom in the woods. They seem to be terrified that if they build a kabone anywhere near any place that people frequent, that the smell will take over that place and make their lives miserable. Consequently, my bathroom is in a place that no one ever goes – the flood zone.
When I got installed, my Peace Corps installer told them it was too far away and they had to do something about the pathway that was under a foot of water. Naturally, the President of the Fokontany (Morarano is a fokontany, or small village, of nearby Foulpointe) immediately responded that they would fill in the pathway so I at least wouldn’t have to wade through knee deep water every time I had to pee. I’m pretty sure he had no intention of ever doing this, however, since every time I asked him when he was going to fix it, he would show me this incredibly long meandering route I could take to my kabone that wasn’t flooded. Naturally, being so close to the flooded area this alternate path, while not under water, usually has several inches of mud the entire way.
After about a month and a half here, a different Peace Corps employee came to visit. He took one look at my kabone and demanded that they just build me a new one and offered to have Peace Corps pay for it. I was relieved because building a new kabone seemed like a simple enough task – all they really had to do was dig a new hole and move the building from the old one to the new one, and with Peace Corps paying, the community would have no excuse to not do it. It seemed simple, but unfortunately, the idea of a cement floor got thrown in there somehow. I don’t know if this idea came from Peace Corps or from the community trying to show their dedication to building an excellent kabone, but for whatever reason, my President of the Fokontany became convinced that he had to have cement for the new kabone. So, the next thing I know, I’m housing two big bags of cement courtesy of Peace Corps.
Sure enough, the day after the cement arrived the President stopped by and admitted that no one in Morarano actually knew how to build a kabone with cement. I didn’t know how to build one either so we went on the hunt for a technician. I knew that there were people in Peace Corps who knew how to do it, but of course, I couldn’t get a hold of them. By the time I did, my President had already gotten this insanely complicated kabone plan requiring tubes leading to holes and who knows what else. I immediately got him on the phone with Peace Corps so they could explain to him what to do. Then I got on the phone and had them explain to me what to do. For the next week or two I went over the plan with the President every time I saw him:
“Here’s how you make the cement floor. Then build the same thing you built before but replace the wood floor with a cement one. Put the building with the cement floor directly over the hole. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I understand well.”
We even went over exactly where I wanted them to build the new kabone (for some reason, after being so afraid to put a kabone near any houses, they wanted to build the new one adjacent to my kitchen window):
“Please, do not build the kabone right next to my kitchen. I want you to build it in the front right corner of my yard. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I understand well.”
It got to the point where I reminded him of exactly what to do so many times that I was starting to feel like I was being patronizing. But I at least felt fairly certain that he knew what to do.
I was wrong. I returned home from a Peace Corps workshop a few days ago to find a giant hole right outside my kitchen window and the foundation for the kabone building already started – located, not above the hole as I had specifically stated over and over for weeks, but behind it. I frantically went over all the conversations we’d had in my head:
“What went wrong? Did I mix up the words for over and under? I do that sometimes. Maybe that was the problem. But even if I had, wouldn’t he have caught me? After all, it doesn’t make any sense to say you want the building underneath the hole. And why didn’t they build it in front of my house? I had even cleared the space where I wanted it! Looks like I’m stuck with the crazy tube contraption for a kabone. Maybe it will work and it won’t smell up my kitchen…”
I was still pondering all of this when I headed out to go to the bathroom. When I got to the site of my old kabone I stopped short. The kabone was gone. All that was left was the floor and the hole. Of course! They had taken apart the building of my old kabone and moved it to where the new one would be. And they had done all this before they were ready to build the new building. Well before, as a matter of fact, as they had not even started on the cement part of things, which I hear takes at least a week to dry.
This discovery was one of many times where I desperately wished I could peek inside the head of a Malagasy and see what kind of logic they were using when they made this decision. Maybe they reached the cement step, realized they still didn’t know how to do it so while they waited for me to get back, they went ahead and did what they knew how to do – take apart the old building. Whatever they were thinking, they certainly were not thinking of the fact that they were leaving me with a bathroom without walls and that my kabone sits it plain view of the village elementary school. For now, I have the choice of using my old wall-less kabone and letting all the students stare at my bare ass while I go to the bathroom, or I can switch to using my chamber pot full time. So far I’ve been going with the chamber pot option, but I really hate cleaning that thing out so if they don’t finish soon I might end up returning to swimming my old kabone and letting the entire school gape at me while I go to the bathroom.
Political Economy of Development Cheat Sheet
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