category: Emilys Guatemala

poopSM.gifI know we’re quite close to being done here. How can I forget it, when it seems that every day at least one person says in their sing-song Spanish, “Ya mero se van..” (You’re leaving soon…) letting the end of the sentence trail off, which seems to punctuate the inevitability of this upcoming goodbye. But for the time being, we’re still here, still thinking like health workers, sometimes still shocked by things we’re confronted with.

The other day I was up at the pila washing dishes. It was the afternoon, quiet and glaringly bright. Delmi was playing in the flat space between our house and the neighbors. Looking up from the pila I could see across the yard and down to the apple tree in front of our house. Suddenly Delmi tells me she has to poo, so I tell her to go the field.

Now, I’m not happy to give this response, but it’s necessary. She’s little, she needs to poo, she still asks for directions. My job here has been largely to discourage people from pooping in the fields, thus improving sanitation. But what they never told us in training is that kids are so tiny and latrines so big that it’s actually a hazard to try potty training kids in latrines. They could definitely fall in. The family potty trains the kids in the milpa, the cornfields around the house, and I go along with it, because we can’t change everything in a day.

Up to this point Delmi had been playing with her favorite dog Kiki, running around like a savage child, barefoot, dirty face, crazy hair. She looked pretty content with life to tell you the truth. She follows my instructions, almost, and goes not quite into the recently hoed cornfield (because she’s barefoot and doesn’t want to step on anything). I am washing dishes methodically not thinking much about anything, and there’s Delmi, in front of me, squatting and pooping on the walking path between the house and the sheeps’ pen, Kiki waiting patiently behind her playmate. Delmi stands up as though she’s done, toddles a few steps, squats again because apparently she wasn’t quite finished. I’m hoping someone comes out with a shovel and buries this poop promptly. It’s the best we can hope for, right? Just then, Kiki swoops in and licks the whole mess up. I was frozen watching this, disgusted, but thinking, “Well, as long as the mess is cleaned up I should be thankful, right?”

Delmi stands up, pants around her ankles. She’d picked up a tiny stone while squatting, and now lifts her arm above her head and wings the stone at the dog to make it go away, just as she’s seen the adults do. I see Fletch standing paralyzed and staring out from under the apple tree and can’t help but share my disgust by yelling, “KIKI JUST ATE DELMI’S POO!” in English. “THAT’S DISGUSTING!” he yelled back. We are both watching Delmi toddle toward the house, her little round belly sticking out as she carefully chooses each barefoot step with her pants still down around her ankles. She starts yelling, “TXUTXA! TXUTXA!” to get her grandma’s attention. Her aunt runs out of the house and exclaims, “Ay Dios!”, turns and runs back into the house. She emerges a second later with corncobs in her hand. This is like a train wreck. I don’t know why we both, 20 yards apart, felt the need to stop and stare at this whole thing. Delmi’s aunt bends over her and I hear Fletch yell from under the apple tree, “DID YOU SEE WHAT SHE JUST DID WITH THAT CORNCOB!?” And I yelled back, “YUP.”

Fletch was hooting with laughter. I was just sort of dazed. This job is so weird. Pooping in public should not be something I see on a regular basis, but I have seen it…multiple times. And I always think, “Now, Miss Health worker, what are you going to do about it?” After nearly two years, I still don’t know. What do you do about public pooping?

Lest we think this is a third world problem, I was telling this story to our visiting friend Charlotte the other day and she started laughing hysterically. “Oh my god, you have to hear this podcast I was listening to on the bus on the way here!” She quickly snatched up her iPod and found This American Life’s podcast “David and Goliath” in which David Sedaris reveals the darker side of the retail world, full of public poops that those poor register employees are left to clean up. I hadn’t realized my current job was so similar to working in retail…The world is a very strange place. Our experiences are so varied, culture, education, beliefs can be so different. But if there’s one thing we’ve all got in common, it’s poop.

Posted by: emily