Defecatio matutina bona tamquam medicina.
Defecatio meridiana neque bona neque sana.
Defecatio vespertina ducit hominem ad ruinam.
My grandfather was my mentor and a wise man. He had two degrees. He taught me this little gem of wisdom, coined by the ancient Scuola Medica Salernitana, the world’s first medical school, and it always made me think of pooping as something noble (yes, defecatio means the discharge of feces from the body, or in plain language going to the bathroom). In fact, this precept does not even sound about pooping, does it? It is about “defecation”, something educational, musical, dignifying. The morning poop, in particular. So incredibly healthy and refreshing.
But wait a second: can we really talk about excrement as a “dignifying” issue? Am I going over the board here? I would not say so, and it is easy to prove it. Every day I wake up at 4:30 (my son is 2 and does not sleep. Any suggestions?), then I have my Italian espresso and BOOM, I am sitting on a clean white toilet using white toilet paper. Occasionally, I read a magazine. I wash my hands in a nice white sink. So noble. So aristocratic. So defecatio matutina.
This is not the case for millions of people around the world.
Not more than a couple of months ago, in India two young girls were attacked, raped and hanged from a tree. They were outside looking for an open field to relieve themselves. They did not have a nice white toilet at home. But they could not go out during the day, because they were ashamed and afraid of been seen.
Security is only one of the many un-dignifying issues related to inadequate sanitation. New research on malnutrition, which leads to childhood stunting, suggests that a root cause may be an abundance of human waste polluting soil and water, not a scarcity of food. Several studies show that, for every rupee spent on sanitation, there is an incredible return, in the form of improved health, lowered mortality rates, higher school attendance rates, and disease control.
Did I make my case about pooping with dignity? To strengthen my point: in 2012 my fellow-blogger Samuel Musyoki wrote about dignified defecation (he used another term, which in Kiswahili is “Kunya kwa heshma”) when 12 villages in Tharaka County said goodbye to open defecation. There is even a book about Squatting with Dignity. In other words: “defecatio”. Preferably “matutina”.
Defecacio matutina. This is what I thought about when few weeks ago I visited the indigenous rural community of Pujilí, Ecuador, where the Infrastructure Water and Sanitation Rural Program , co-financed by the Spanish Fund for Water and the Inter-American Development Bank, is providing resources for the construction of Basic Sanitation Units (BSU) comprising shower, sink and toilet with a connection to a septic tank, for about 15,500 people. The picture speaks for itself: a change from dirt to clean, from sloppy to decorum, from lowliness to self-respect. From shitting to defecatio.
Sure, things are not perfect, and there are many things that could have been done differently. First, the community social-mobilization could have worked better. Also, the issue of grey water is still to be addressed. Rural sanitation, indeed, is not an easy subject.
I will not dig further into this area though. I will leave it for my next blog. Now it is time to sit and enjoy this important step. It is still early morning… Defecatio matutina bona tamquam medicina…