This is one of those times when it just doesn’t pay to listen to the news—none of it is good. Between a new war in Libya, earthquakes, Supermoons and the revelation that Lady Gaga’s boyfriend has written a soon-to-be-released book called The Drunk Diet, I decided that dwelling on the headlines would just add to the misery. So I spent some time looking for something nice to talk about.
And guess what? There are good things going on in the world and they crop up where you least expect them.
For example, the other day there was a segment on the news about how the people of Christchurch are coping with no plumbing in some parts of town, even though it’s been a month since the earthquake. Getting water hasn’t been as serious a problem as not being able to use the toilet and improvising has been necessary.
Anyone who has ever travelled in the third world is likely to be an expert on the question of finding an appropriate receptacle when you need one.
I learned this lesson in many years ago in China. We were stuck in a traffic jam and I suddenly found myself hit by the full force of some sort of exotic digestive ailment. I delicately described the problem to the English speaking guide who communicated something to the driver. Given that we were pretty much gridlocked meant that nothing really happened. I again articulated my plight and indicated that there was a bit of urgency about the situation.
Whatever the guide said to the driver had the desired effect because he pulled out of traffic and onto the sidewalk and started showing some creditable Hollywood chase scene moves. By this time, the scene in the car had become something like the back of an ambulance with the guide checking my vital signs and communicating to the driver who reacted accordingly with ever increasing feats of driving skill.
We finally screeched to a halt and the driver jumped out of the car. He opened my door and pulled me out. He grabbed my hand and started running down the street and then we ducked into an alley with many doors. He pushed one open and I was moderately relieved to see that we were in a totally packed local restaurant. He had a word with the proprietor and the crowd parted and the driver pulled me to the back of the restaurant, through the kitchen (another story altogether, from the little I remember) and then with a huge but toothless grin, pointed to a door.
You can’t imagine what a blessed sight that was. But my relief was short lived. Yes, it was a toilet, but the only fixture was a wall hung urinal. And it seemed as if it had been hung for basketball players, not Chinese people. Or anyone who needed something more at that point.
Well, to make a long story short, I did what I had to do. And all I could think of was the cleaning people surveying the situation and asking themselves, “How did he do that.”
Actually, that was better than another facility that I saw a few days later, fortunately not under emergency conditions and therefore I was only an observer, not a user. It was a raised platform of eastern style squat toilets—but there were no dividers, doors or anything providing privacy—just a row of holes in green Astroturf. It looked like a putt-putt course with a bunch of guys reading the newspaper as they squatted over the holes.
So I have some degree of sympathy when I hear that Christchurch residents are without plumbing. The news is that the rest of New Zealand, and a lot of other places, have been stripped of chemical toilets and Port-a-loos and they’ve been sent to Christchurch to save the day.
Not only that, some residents, preferring privacy rather than sharing a community Port-a-loo have decided on a DIY approach and have dug what are called “long drops.” As the name implies, a long drop is a deep hole in the ground.
The uplifting part of the story is the humour and good cheer that the people of Christchurch have maintained while putting up with what have to be fairly significant inconveniences. For example, here is a song about the joys of using Port-a-loos done (sort of) to the tune of “Waterloo” by New Zealand musician Jazzy J:
A lot of people who went the long drop route decided that comfort, and more important, humour, would be a good way to make up for some of the inconvenience. When some of the more creative and exotic long drop designs started getting noticed, someone started a web site called “Show Us Your Long Drop,” on which people were encouraged to post pictures of their creations. Here are some photos from the web site to give you an idea of the sorts of things people were coming up with.
This is the basic utility model:
While this one is called “Tim’s New Office”:
And you can’t beat this for pure elegance:
Or this for sophistication:
And Dr. Who fans will appreciate The Turdis:
I hope that I never have to make these sorts of alternative arrangements, but if I do I hope I will do it with the same sense of community, sharing, humour and good will that the people of Christchurch have shown.