Post 19: All about ME!

29 April 2011

Well, enough about all the wonderful things that everyone else is doing here in Chad….let me tell you about all the wonderful things I have been doing lately.

As you may recall, I am the Watsan for the mission – responsible for water, sanitation and hygiene.   Burning garbage, emptying latrines, surveying drainage paths, testing water pumps, “training” (ie. begging) people to wash their hands…..not what you think of when you think of ”Médecins Sans Frontières”, but nonetheless an important part of MSF’s activities and what I do every day.

In 2010 there was significant flooding in the Am Timan area and a many latrines in the community collapsed and have not been rebuilt.  As part of the flood response, MSF is working with the community to construct 120 latrines to replace the fallen ones.  So, let me walk you through it…

The beneficiaries themselves provide the manual labour…starting with the digging of the pit.  120cm across and up to 350cm deep.  If it is hot and sweaty standing at the top of the pit looking down, it is a million times worse standing at the bottom of the pit looking up!  I can attest to that.  44oC in the shade.  Not 44oC in the sun!

I have hired a small but growing legion of local tailors to sew sandbags to use to line the latrines…..about 12000 of them.  They are making a mint off this program!

Of course the sandbags then need to be filled with dirt (NOT sand, as you may logically think)  Young and old – fun for all!  About 150 bags per pit.

....and then pounded into the walls of the pit.  This lining will make the pits more resistant in the rainy season and prevent their collapse.

We usually attract quite a bit of attention as we labour over our latrines…. Women, children and the odd camel caravan gather around to watch us work.

Myself and Hamza, one of my three community supervisors, after a long, hot, sweaty day of laying sandbags.  (I’m the one on the right.)

We have set up a small latrine slab fabrication site where our chief mason and his 4 assistants make 8 concrete slabs per day.  It is a 150cm diameter self-supporting dome-shaped slab with no rebar.  I know, I know – I was hesitant at first.  But we test them with 6 people standing on them and if they don’t break, out they go!  All according to the do-it-yourself latrine book.   Incha’Allah!

Then we load the slabs one by one onto a horse cart, complete with wood and fencing, and send them off to be installed.  This very persuasive cart driver somehow convinced me to pay him 3500 CFA, or 7 dollars, to haul one load to a particular neighborhood.  Sure, it is farther than the other neighborhoods and you have to cross the sandy riverbed…..Am I getting ripped off????  I’ll never know.

And voila!  Happy, happy latrine owners!