I am heading out to the far North-West of Ghana, West Africa, to a district called Nandom. As we drive for hours on a stretch, the landscape undergoes a complete transformation as the lush green south with its hustle and bustle recedes and high grass takes over. The stifling heat indicates that we are approaching the Sahara. We pass by small villages with men sitting in the shade of thick mango trees.
I have come to find out how one of the poorest regions in Ghana managed to almost eradicate open defecation in a mere five years. In 2012, three out of every four persons still defecated in the open. Nowadays everyone has at least a latrine.
A sanitation expert takes me to visit two villages, for me to find out for myself. He explains that using a latrine is extremely important because filth is the number one cause of disease and exposure to shit is a big contributor.
The car wobbles over a dusty road as the expert tells me a common catchphrase, “Dirt is going from FAECES to FLY to FOOD to YOU.” And my mind wanders off to the first time I visited Ghana when on one occasion the call of nature had driven me to a wooden bench with a bucket below. As I glanced down absent mindedly, I saw with horror how its dark contents was dancing as if alive. “How?” I asked my host and was explained that flies lay their eggs down there, from faeces to fly indeed.
The jeep has been travelling over dirt tracks for almost an hour when we halt in a tiny village. Clay huts, straw stubbles sticking out of the hard soil, some baobabs, piles of firewood and an occasional donkey. Here and there I see small cubicles in the same color as the surrounding landscape. Latrines! After paying respect to the village chief (a round of handshakes, a few words, another round of handshakes) we venture out to greet the villagers. As they show me their latrines, I notice with surprise that I smell absolutely nothing. The piping system leads all odor out.
A little group has gathered. They are telling me how it used to be when they were still going out into the fields. “Wasn’t it nicer, out in the bushes with lovely views all around?” I ask, to provoke them out of their obligatory praises.
Back in the car I tell the expert how these people have made me realize that a latrine offers you a place of dignity, even if you have gone out to the field all your life.