Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Ms. G – Talkin’ to People

October turned to November and I’ve probably given out the impression that I haven’t been doing a lot of useful stuff here. Well, actually I have.


Target a household/business premise, invite yourself in, ask for permission to interview, ask for permission to record, ask your questions, note down coordinates (where you really are), maybe have a short chat, present your gratefulness, leave, target another household/business premise. Repeat 3-7 times. That’s how my usual day has looked like so far. It’s been fun.

There’s been lots of giggling because of silly questions, lots of awkward silence because of weird question, plenty of misunderstandings. But zero hostility, even though I was expecting some, asking questions under a pretty sensitive theme.

The easiest interviews are with the ones who speak either good English or no English. In the former case it feels like a normal discussion, in the latter one I get to off easy by just presenting the original questions as they appear on paper and let my friend do the explaining. Most problems are encountered when people bravely try to make it through with less than perfect English skills, forcing me to ask each question differently many times. I’m sure this is what I’ve been asking for by not preparing my questions well enough (Can it ever be done well enough?), and it’s good training also for me, but still… You might be tired, it’s really hot… You get the picture.

I think I’ve done quite enough of interviews because not many new answers come up anymore, so here’s a short, gut-feeling, mini-analysis of the answers:
  • Everyone interviewed actually has a toilet, something that is not self-evident in the region. Some people do claim however that not everyone in the community have toilets.
  • Almost all toilets are pit latrines, which is a ‘dump, cover and forget’- solution. You dig a pit and when it’s full you cover it and gig another one. It serves well for keeping the surrounding clean and preventing the spread of diseases, which is why it is being advocated by for instance the health authorities, Plan International and World Vision. But it also leaves all the nutrients unused and unavailable as well as makes possible the contamination of ground water. And at one point people just have to run out of land to dig pits in, right?
  • Farming as the only occupation in a household is very common. Nearly everyone farms something, although it is an unpredictable practice due to weather patterns, in order to not be dependent on a single income and being vulnerable to changes in life.
  • No-one around uses human waste to improve the soil conditions on farms, although organic wastes and animal manure are widely used. Using industrial fertilizers is not very widespread because it is too expensive.
  • The waste that is not used as manure is burned since a collection system does not exist except for some scrap buyers around the towns.
  • Not many people oppose the idea as such of using human excreta to improve soil conditions. It is not used, according to the interviews, simply because of a lack of skills and technology to do so.

The last one is crucial significant, as sub-Saharan Africans are in literature generally considered to be against all contact with human excreta (the term is faecophobic) as opposed to for instance to Asians (who would then be faecophilics, which sounds a lot more perverse than it really is). What needs to considered here is of course that answering ‘yes, I could consider that’ is easy whereas it doesn’t really tell you that people would actually be using piss and poo on their farms. Would people eat/buy the products? Would restaurants serve them?

And here are some of my favourite answers, freely (!?) translated:

‘Yeah, I don’t think my family sh*its enough for it to be of any use to us...’

‘Well, I have to be happy with my toilet because I built it and I clean it!’

‘I want a flush toilet. Flush! FLUSH!’ [yelling at the recorder] Later Mwadime confirmed my suspicion that this man had had some happy-liquid.

‘We have no sources of income’, when the smell in the house and the respondents condition made clear that he was actually running a not very small factory of that happy-liquid.

And the one I’ve been expecting to come along way more often: “You can have people do whatever you want with their sh*t, as long as you stay away from my shamba (garden/farm) with it!”

Next, I’m going to be moving on to the maybe harder and more interesting part of the field work: Finding out, getting a grip of and talking to people that might be thought to know something about these things in the bigger picture. Expert interviews I will call them. I’ll start easy and consider anyone working in government, waste management, agriculture, forestry or NGOs an expert.

And just because I found a fun new tool: There’s a poll to the right: Do you consider yourself faecophobic or faecophilic? Please think about it, answer and even motivate or comment if you like. I’m yet to answer it myself.

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