LIFE BY LOUIS: Why Brian needs intense lessons on using the pit latrine

Saturday December 30 2017

Pit latrines in the village are considered a

Pit latrines in the village are considered a necessary evil and are always sited in remotest corner of the homestead. Sometimes you will find the facility located outside the perimeter wall with thick bushes growing around it. ILLUSTRATION| IGAH 

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Life in the village has been quite interesting. Having enjoyed Christmas, it’s finally time to go back to the leafy suburbs and embark on the daily hustle and bustle of the city.

Village life the last few days has not been without its own share of drama, especially for the young ones.

After stuffing himself with all kinds of food and drinks on Christmas day, Brian approached me and from his facial expression, I could tell that he was in distress.

He whispered something to my ear and I smiled back. It was nothing serious, he just wanted me to show him somewhere he could relieve himself.

So I escorted him to the pit latrine located about a hundred metres from the house. 

Pit latrines in the village are considered a necessary evil and are always sited in remotest corner of the homestead. Sometimes you will find the facility located outside the perimeter wall with thick bushes growing around it.


After I had ensured that he had properly latched the door from inside to avoid unexpected visitors, I went back to the banquet where we were peeling off goat ribs escorting them down with a myriad of cold beverages.

After what I considered a reasonable interval, I realised that the boy was still holed up in the facility which was quite unusual for the simple biological function.

As a good father, I decided to go and have a quick look just to confirm that everything is okay. I was whistling a jolly Christmas tune along the way.

When you are approaching this facility, it is considered good practice to let a lot of noise accompany your movements.

The reasons for this are many.

Sometimes the facility does not have a functional door, and instead the opening is covered with a piece of polythene bag.

The walls to the facility are made of timber and a few pieces could be missing, leaving gaping holes on walls.


The noise that you make as you approach the facility is supposed to warn the latrine user of your imminent presence. In the intervening period before you come barging inside, they can get the opportunity to preserve their decency and warn you to wait for a few minutes.

When I arrived at the facility, I found the young man still fully dressed and staring at the small opening on the floor of the facility like a rookie geologist who had discovered an interesting earth fissure.

I felt guilty. I must have taken it for granted that he would automatically know how to make use of the tiny and unsymmetrical opening on the floor. I therefore organised a quick one point lesson for him and ensured that he was relieved.


Truth be told, even at my age I have never fully trusted a pit latrine.

The ones that we used in primary and secondary school further fuelled my dislike for these facilities.

In primary school, the pits were just a few metres deep and you could see the bottom which further fuelled my fears. There were few functioning doors and privacy was not guaranteed.

In high school, the pits were also shallow and treated with a certain chemical that turned the pit contents into a fine paste. When you dropped the fruits of your labour, you were likely to get some feedback that stuck on your school uniform that smelled of an expired biological weapon of mass destruction.

The teachers made our experiences with the facilities more traumatising by forcing us to wash them when we were caught on the wrong side of the law, which was quite often.

These horrid experiences with this important facility continue to haunt me in my adult life. 

My biggest fear is losing some personal belongings in the pit. My fears are well founded as a result of one nasty experience I had inside the facility while having a bath.


The facility also doubles up as the family bathroom. Because it is not custom built for this use, you really have to improvise on a number of items.

The first trick is the timing so as to ensure that the facility is absolutely free and you are not likely to be interrupted in the course of your bath. Remember that you still have to make your presence therein widely broadcast so as to avoid undue interruptions.

The other tricky part is to find where to place the water basin, soap, towel and clothes.

One unfortunate incident remains etched into my memories.

It was a Sunday morning and I was the first in queue to use the bathroom. Time was not on my side and I was in a hurry.

I had carefully placed the bath water and soap in their safe locations and I was looking for a place to hang my clothes when I felt some movement near my feet.

I turned abruptly but it was too late. The thudding sound that marked the arrival of the soap at the bottom of the pit was message enough. The soap had slithered from its location and directly into the pit.

I could not shout out for help to have the replacement soap delivered, I was sure there was none in the homestead and a kid would have to be sent to the nearest shopping centre to buy one.

So I endured a dry bath, plus everyone else in the queue.

Every time I use the facility, I experience this morbid fear that my phone will accidentally join the soap at the bottom of the pit.

When these festivities are over, I shall take Brian through an intensive tutorial, including practical lessons, on how to safely use this important facility.