The Shitty Truth. Africa is a Country.

Anti- Xenophobia Protest March 27 May 2008
Anti- Xenophobia Protest March 27 May 2008


I recently met with an old friend of mine in my not so new neigbourhood Troyville east of Johannesburg. It was a surreal meeting for my friend and I in many ways as we were both going back in time in order to move on into our new lives. We met at the Troyville hotel, a Portuguese restaurant on Bezuidenhout Street. The Troyville hotel is a historical monument of this little village-town – an institution visited by many who go there to watch sports at the pub, eat seafood on the outside terrace and get wasted.   As we were catching-up, summarizing the last 5 years of our lives into manageable bite size pieces of uselessly useful information. I told her a shitty story over her  lunch of chicken livers  and a vegetable platter for me.  My timing couldn’t have been more inappropriate, but it’s a story I told her to illustrate a point which was important to our conversation about growing up. She laughed so hard and enjoyed the story so much that she suggested I blog about it.  So be warned – the story is of a graphic nature ( continuous use of the word – shit )sensitive readers should exercise caution. Here goes:


STEP ONE:  Go to a far-way country (not always needed). The story begins in a far-away town in Africa. The name of the town is called Senegal; it’s on the western most part of this African country I call home. I was on my second visit there and for two months I lived in a bachelor flat, meaning a medium size room with a bathroom.  I was there to begin a new life but unbeknown to me, my ideal dream life in this amazing town could not begin before I dealt with my shit. Literally.

STEP TWO:  Assimilate. Senegal is 80 percent Muslim and as such their ablution practices are not very western in nature. The majority of Senegalese go to the toilet without the assistance of toilet paper as we are used to in this town called South Africa. In my little apartment I had toilet paper for that reason but the toilet was blocked, the plumbing didn’t work as well, maybe due to my insistence to use of toilet paper.  This meant that I had to wait for at least two or more days for my shit to go down, before I could shit again.  Despite the fact that most of it was my shit, it was a truly disgusting sight each time I tried to flush it down, because all the shit would rise to the surface fill up the toilet threatening to overflow.   I suspected the previous tenants has not dealt with their stuff either. It was an untenable situation.  I asked the landlord to deal with the issue and the only day  he came to check the toilet, it flushed effortlessly as if I was making the whole shit story up. I was too embarrassed to call again when the problem persisted. None the less, in order to avoid a blocked toilet and staying in a room stinking of shit I had to think of ingenious ways of getting rid of it, which often involved eating less and  going somewhere public like the mall, or visiting a friend whose toilet functioned properly.

STEP THREE:  use your own hands. As if by divine appointment a day came while visiting a friend when I needed to have a shit, and I had no toilet paper. So I asked my friend politely how he does it, because it was a very urgent need. He looked at me and laughed as if I was a five-year old. Do it with your own hands he said, with a tinge of embarrassment.  Really? I asked, yes he replied.  So off I went to the bathroom in disbelief. I was afraid. I had not really felt what it’s like to remove shit from my own anus with my own bare hands. But it had to be done and I did it. First by flushing it with water, using my fingers  to ensure that there was no residue, then using the soap available for that  purpose to clean both my behind and  hands. I had to wash my behind over and over without creating a mess in the spotlessly clean white bathroom and leave it clean and dry for the next person to use while making sure that I was neither wet no stinking from the whole affair. It was a cathartic moment for me. All my life I had wiped my anus with the assistance of a toilet paper, or newspaper in extreme cases, the telephone directory, anything but my own fingers!

But what surprised me most about the whole experience was how empowered I felt afterwards. I never imagined I would feel such joy after cleaning my shit with my own bare hands, but I was as it were, jubilant. I felt that now that I could handle my own shit, I could do anything. But the shitty story was not over.

STEP FOUR:  Don’t leave  your shit for someone else to clean up.  Again as if by divine appointment the time came when I could no longer stay in my flat which I had come to embrace. I had to leave. I had stayed a whole week shitting elsewhere, while trying to clean the toilet everyday so as to not leave my shit for anyone else to clean. But a moment came when I really needed to have a shit and it was  a time of  day when  I could not use anyone’s toilet but my own, which was still blocked though shit-less. I devised a plan to use a small bucket, line it with a plastic bag and newspapers, and then I took a shit. It was a lot of it, almost filled up the bucket.  I wiped myself clean with toilet paper this time and closed the offending sight. After washing my hands and feeling very light after I relieved myself, I still had another problem. Where to dump the shit?

STEP FIVE: carry your shit with confidence.  So without another option I decided to go to the sea, to the beach front where I hoped I could dump my shit.  This involved walking across town over the main road to the other side where I had to walk another kilometer or so to reach the beach front.  I had to carry this bucket full of my shit across town as if it was a Gucci hand bag.  I didn’t expect to be met by anyone I knew but as these things go, I was. Ca va? Jedi how are you, said the woman I had met a few days earlier at a party celebrating the birth of her granddaughter.  I had made tea for the party and everyone said it was “negna” (Wolof for nice, delicious) Ca va. Oh and she wanted to kiss and hug and shake my hand. All this time I was concerned that she could smell my shit and I wanted to leave her as soon as possible. After we parted I was relieved, but still had a long way to go to the seaside.

STEP SIX:  Ask the right people for assistance.  Once there I could find no place to dump my shit, and visions of me digging a whole to bury them in broad day light brought shivers down my spine. Nobody knew me, who I was or what I was carrying in the bucket but I was beyond embarrassed.  Until a homeless guy greeted me and I thought well, he will surely know where people dump shit.  I asked him and he led me to a high point on a sand dune, and asked what is in the bucket. I said nothing unconvincingly and then proceeded to tell him that I needed the toilet urgently after a long talk about his life. He looked at me and said, you can go to the loo, right here were we are sitting. I couldn’t believe my luck – all this time I was sitting on a mountain of shit. I turned around to look at what was behind me and it was a grave-site. That moment was too surreal for words but then I thought it was perhaps the most fitting place to bury all this shit I had been carrying with me. So I did.

STEP SEVEN:  Stop worrying about shit. After dumping my shit in the appropriate place I ran from the hill and threw myself into the Atlantic Ocean in a symbolic baptism, which held such great meaning for me I had no words to express until now. There’s no need to go back and dig it up, think or worry about it. I had no more worries. I was free from shit.

The moral of the story:  We all have shit to deal with.

I could have never had that experience anywhere else, I think. That experience has taught me and continues to teach me so many lessons about my own life and life in general.  However embarrassing this shitty tale of mine is the truth is we all shit. While we’re eating, drinking and having fun we don’t think about shit, shitting, or where the shit goes. But we all do and must shit in order to stay alive. Some people have assistants who help them take care of their shit while others don’t.  But in the end the two go hand in hand and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about or be ashamed of.  Shitting is a fact of life and should be enjoyed just as much as eating. Growing up means you must be able to handle your own shit with your own hands. Carry it. Dump it and get over it. The more you are able to handle your shit without assistance, the more confident you will be.

As South Africans we have a lot of shit to deal with and until we do deal, we can’t tell others how to handle their shit. As Africans we need to deal with our own shit before we can blame it on others. But more importantly we need stop wiping other people’s anuses, and focus on our own. Only when we can confidently handle our own shit can we help others with theirs. We can learn a lot from each other, we need each other actually. And if push comes to shove:  In the end we really don’t need toilet paper.

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