Head Torches, Bush Toilets and Remote Bush Camps | Sense Africa


Head torches, bush toilets and remote bush camps in Africa13th September '12

toilet paper
I often get asked about what it is like going to the loo in the Africa. Normally this is fine, quite often there are flushing toilets, running water and all the mod cons you can imagine. In the remote bush camps there is often no electricity so a head torch is often a good piece of kit to have, but normally the toilets are not that different to what we are used to.

A Long Drop

In the more remoter and adventurous situations there are a variety of different kinds of loos termed ‘long drops’. These become short drops as more people use it. In local communities some are more unpleasant than others, so make sure that you use solid looking structures. The idea of everything crashing in around you often assists with the speediness of delivery! Bush toilets are normally in stunning settings and much cleaner and better looked after. The best one I have used was over looking the Zambezi River and whilst I was there I could watch a herd of elephants sploshing around in the water. Now that was certainly a loo with a view.
However, there are some loos that are less desirable and there are cases when sometimes I can not believe what I am seeing. I often wonder whether common sense left behind when leaving the UK. One particular instance comes to mind when I was working with volunteers in the south east lowveld of Zimbabwe. I still cannot believe it, even thinking about it now.
We were all staying in a remote bush camp in Save Valley Conservancy where there was a very large long drop that had been there for a number of years. I say large by the fact that it was deep, wide, and had potential to be there for another few years. It was structurally sound.
There were 15 of us in the camp at the time and I was permanently based there managing the scientific work. It was normally a noisy camp, lots of things happening. But this time as I emerged from my mud hut (yes, I was living in a mud hut for 10 weeks at a time) it was abnormally quiet. This made me twitchy. I could hear some hushed voices coming from the long drop area so I went to investigate. After all, I was responsible for everyone’s welfare.

Head First Down a Bush Toilet

And there was the most ridiculous, unbelievable, heart stopping vision in front of me. There were two guys holding the feet of a third person who was suspended head down inside the long drop. I could only see his knees and feet protruding from above the toilet seat.
The previous night Dan had dropped his head torch in the bus toilet, whilst turned on, and it had lit up the inside of the hole like beacon. Going to the loo after that had been a bit disconcerting.  You could see (if you chose to look) the large albino python that lived in the long drop and the numerous bats that it fed off. The light had certainly flustered the bats and they were active all night and all day as well. Going to the loo became a rather interesting challenge. I decided to leave the torch where it was in the long drop, and let the batteries run down. I thought that this was very sensible, and the only option.
Obviously Dan thought differently and had decided against his better judgement that he wanted his torch back – he had not got another one. So there he was, suspended over a soup of human, snake and bat faeces, reaching down to retrieve his torch. The smell alone must have made him gag. I was aghast. What on earth was he thinking? Would he want to wear his head torch after knowing where it had been? The health negative implications were enormous.
“Please pull Dan out of there immediately”, I said in a calm and commanding voice. Well at least that is what I thought I sounded like, it was probably more of a squeak.
Inside I was utter turmoil. If he had fallen he would have probably died from either drowning or asphyxiation. Or maybe the crush from a hacked off snake or from diseases such as typhoid, cholera, hepatitis A, the list was endless. I have no idea how I would have explain the situation.
Slowly Dan was extracted from the long drop, inch by inch. There was a collective sigh of relief from all the spectators when his feet were firmly placed on the ground. He did look a bit relieved as well. I advised him that it might be a good idea to have a shower in disinfectant, and to take quite a few deep breathes of fresh air. Also to contemplate his stupidity.
That night the bats and python had to endure another night of illumination. As did those of us going to the loo at night. It took three days for the head torch batteries to die and the bush toilet to get back to some sense of normality.

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