Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The toilets in Jimma

In the city of Jimma, I have my toilet in the hotel. It’s a white, porcelain, throne-style water flush toilet that would be just like home—except hat it appears to leak water on my floor on a regular basis, it seems to be nearly constantly filling its tank, and the water goes out in the city pretty consistently.

The last is a reflection of the town’s poor infrastructure in general, where everything from roads to water is an unreliable mess. The other night I was picking my way through the mud puddles and bumps of the road and nearly fell into an 8-foot deep hole in the middle of the sidewalk, and I am consistently woken up on my trips back from the rural areas by nearly being catapulted out of my seat as we hit the first Jimma road.

            Jimma has particularly bad corruption, which has helped lead to the decay and unreliability of the infrastructure. Infrastructure is one of the most direct and personal ways in which we experience the power of—or the lack of power of—the government, or (as social science-y people use more often) the state. On a day to day basis (presuming you don’t work for the government or get pulled over a lot for speeding), the most consistent time we encounter government influences is through infrastructure. It’s in our homes—it’s the light we flip on in the morning, the shower we turn on, the toilet we flush.

            But sanitation infrastructure is unique. A difficulty at the electric plant affects you. You know when the power’s gone bad because you can’t use the full array of electronic doohickeys you have. You might call the power company and ask why it’s out. But what about when the sewage goes bad? It’s somebody else’s problem—it’s the state’s. Once you flush, your shit is no longer your property, no longer your responsibility. When you flush, the state infrastructure takes your shit out of your house and into the “public” space where you can pretend it never belonged to you. (Me? Shit? No….I’m a girl. I never shit.)

            Personally, I have no idea where my sewage goes when I flush it here in Jimma. I am grateful that it’s away, but I don’t take ownership of it, I don’t curse the state every time I flush the toilet like I curse the state when the electricity goes out while I’m in the middle of talking with my boyfriend online. (Conversely, I do curse when my toilet doesn't flush--meaning that my waste still is in my space instead of away.) I doubt there’s a wastewater treatment plant anywhere in the area, and I can be fairly certain that someone—near a river or stream that all of this is getting dumped into—is cursing.

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