I have spent a LOT of the last two years learning about toilets. It is not something I thought I would ever know this much about but hey, no knowledge is wasted. With that thought, let me share a bit with you.
There are many forms of low-tech toilets. The simplest one is defecating on the beach. The tide comes in and its like one big flush. For many, very obvious, reasons that is not an encouraged method. In a similar vein, there is the “feed the pig” method which just involves pooping in the pig pen and let nature and omnivorous animals take their course. This is not just disgusting but also a health hazard. There are certain forms of worms and illnesses that specifically use that cycle to reproduce.
The next step up is the “bush” or “pit” toilet. Think: outhouse. Rather, think: scary, scary squatty-potty outhouse. Around here, they are generally made by digging a big hole and tossing 3-4 logs over it. The logs run across the top with a slightly wider gap between two of them. To use it, you walk in on the two logs, squat down, do your thing and waddle back out. For the first six months this is actually a fine arrangement. It doesn’t stink too bad, the pile of yuck is far enough down to not be too unpleasant and the logs and nice and strong. As time goes on, all those factors change for the worse. Jason had a close call with the logs breaking under him as he squatted in one and I’ve had a rat come running out of the toilet and smack into the hand I was using for support. The rat made a most interesting plop when it fell back down.
Aside from a lot of really funny stories, this method has a lot of problems. To start with, flies can come and go. Flies are little disease vectors of nastiness. Think about all the dung they sit on and then how much of your food they sit on. Now, think about having your fly infested outhouse 100 feet from your kitchen. Delicious.
So, in an attempt to make a toilet that is as easy and cheap to construct but keeps the flies out, the VIP toilet was born. VIP stands for something but I can’t remember anything past the Ventilated part. The idea is that you take a bush toilet and rather than the 3 logs you either carve a board or make a concrete slab for the squatting point. In the corner of the slab is a hole where a piece of PVC piping runs from the hole to somewhere above the roof, like a chimney. A small piece of screen is hung over the top and the the walls have to be secure enough to keep it dark inside. (Believe me, on a lot of these toilets a solid wall is not a requirement.)
The idea behind the VIP toilet is that the flies go in to investigate the delicious smells but being flies they get out by flying towards the light. The only light available is the pipe which is blocked by a screen. They go into the pipe, get stuck, die, fall back and join the rest of the compost. The pipe has the secondary benefit of acting as a chimney for the smell. The stink goes up and out at the top which keeps the toilet and room from smelling particularly bad. Also, you can continue to use leaves as toilet paper, which is cheaper than the paper variety.
The flastoilets are the water-seal variety. These have an S-pipe in them and use water, much like modern plumbing. Some are full flush toilets like you’d see in the States, well maybe like you’d see in a bus station or really nasty gas station in the States. Mostly though, they don’t have a separate water tank. They have a bucket next to them which you fill and dump in after you’ve done what you’re going to do. If maintained, they do stink less, they have no flies and they have seats. The down sides are that they use precious water, you have to have toilet paper- no leaves, and they have a lot my plumbing to, in Bislama, buggerup. (really, that’s the word.)
In my community, we use bush toilets. Except my house, which has a water-seal. That sounds like it is super fancy and nice until you find out that I have running water for about 2 hours a day in the evening. Then it sounds a lot stinkier because an unflushable water-seal toilet rather strongly resembles a very small bush toilet with a porcelain lining.
Now, you have learned much more than you ever needed about toilet technology. Don’t you feel informed?