I love talking and teaching the taboo, I think because I love being human. There is sacredness in the human experience, and we cannot quarantine any part of that experience. When we choose life in all its realness, it begs the taboo. Things like sex and poop are so human, yet so often remain untouched.
While teaching high school theology, I brought students to El Salvador each summer. The trips grounded me in reality and gave me enough steam to get through another year of safe, sometimes sterile, static or stagnant conversation. Sitting around reading books and talking about justice and equality is a privilege, and I find it easy to get very high minded and very out of touch with the rest of the world. I can think my work is complete at the end of the conversation, while people go on hurting.
In short, I go to El Salvador to take a break from talking about grand theoretical ideas of peace and God. I find it refreshing, for ten days, to talk about poop. It happens every year. Students sign up to cross boundaries of language, socio-economic class and nation. It sounds sexy and exciting. True. But we also talk about poop a lot. As we cross those boundaries, some students become constipated. Others get traveler’s diarrhea. In our nice Salvadoran rooms, we cannot flush toilet paper, but put it in a bin to be thrown out. During our rural home stay, we are lucky if we have a cockroach invested latrine. One community we stayed in had fourteen latrines total for over one hundred families. Guess which fourteen houses we got to stay in? We get to see how most people in the world live and defecate. And for maybe the first time in their lives, my students desperately and daily need to talk openly about poop.
We are taught at an early age that we are not supposed to reference our relationship with the toilet. Sophisticated people are not supposed to smell, let alone work toward elimination equity. So we talk about water instead of a huge factor that contributes to dirty water- lack of toilets and effective sanitation. We talk about feeding people, but we forget what happens a few hours after people eat. Every person deserves a safe, clean, sustainable place to poop privately. And we need more people to take their pooping privilege seriously so that preventable things like cholera and children dying of amoeba induced diarrhea come to an end. We see first hand in El Salvador that not everyone has a toilet, and very few of those toilets flush and become treated water. And we see first hand the problems that come from our silence about poop.
Now home, when I let the yellow mellow or flush the brown down, I work to remember our brothers and sisters who have to poop publicly or drink untreated water. I am reminded that part of talking about justice in 2011 is talking about toilets. Non-profits like the World Toilet Organization need support. Many development organizations (like LWR) do sanitation work , but struggle to raise funds because people do not want to talk about feces. Mark your calendars, November 19th is World Toilet Day! Let’s make sanitation sexy! Well, if not sexy, at least human. Everybody poops.