Tuesday, June 1, 2010
My first Anatomy class
We lived in a rural part of Northeast Trinidad. Maraval village was small back in the 60s and 70s. Most families had latrines. Our latrine was a wooden structure about 8 feet by 8 feet and stood 10 feet tall. It was built over a large hole in the ground that served as the deposit for human waste. The hole was not connected to a sewer so what went in stayed right there. Inside the latrine was a raised wooden seat with a hole in the middle. A wooden cover usually stood atop the hole. The ceiling of the latrine was galvanized steel sheets that made it unbearable in the hot months.
The latrine was in the back of the house off to the right. The 30 feet from the back door of the house to the latrine was a well worn path. In fact, most of the backyard was dirt. It had been cleared years ago to keep the snakes out or easily visible.
My first chore in the morning would be to empty the chamber pot. Chamber pots were used for going to the bathroom at night. It was the first thing you emptied in the morning. The smell could sometimes make you gag. I would get the chamber pots and empty them in the latrine. Rinse them in the outdoor sink, shake off the excess water, and place them back under the bed for the next night.
The latrine was not a fun place to be for a long time. There were flies, the occasional rodents, snakes seeking refuge from outside elements, mosquitoes, and a smorgasbord of bugs. There wasn’t electricity. So there was no fan when it got hot and there was no light when it got dark.
The latrine was important to me because it is where I first realized something very important about my body.
It was a school morning and I was dressed and ready to go. My stomach had been hurting earlier and my grandmother got some weeds from the back of the house as usual and boiled some tea. I drank it and a few moments later I felt better. However, that good feeling did not last long. My stomach ached terribly.
My grandmother told me to go to the latrine and sit on the toilet. I got up off the chair, went to the back door and walked down the stairs. I reached the latrine door, opened it. Pulled my pants down, and climbed up on the toilet seat. I sat there my hand folded over my stomach willing the pain to go away. I rocked back and forth hoping that the pain would pass. I pressed my clasped hands against my stomach. Beads of sweat ran down my face. The latrine was heating up from the morning sun.
Just then, with a blast that shocked me, liquid stool shot out of my ass and into the blackness of the latrine never to be seen again. I panicked. What had just happened, I asked myself. Something had gone terribly wrong. Had my stomach just dropped out of my ass?
I did what I did best, I screamed. The thought of my stomach down in the putrid disgusting waste sent chills down my spine and greatly increased the volume of my scream.
The first to arrive was my sister and followed closely behind by my grandmother. “What’s wrong?” asked my grandmother. “My stomach just fell out of my bottom and into the latrine!” I yelled.
She sternly replied as if I had wasted her time, “What?”
My sister had taken to snickering at me. My grandmother turned to her and said, “ssshhh.”
She turned back to me. I was crying and truly concerned about my survival chances without my stomach.
My grandmother knew exactly what was happening. She said, “you are going to be alright. I gave you some tea so you could go to the bathroom. You just had some diarrhea. Your stomach is still in your belly.”
“Di-a-what?” I exclaimed.
“Would it kill me?” I asked.
My grandmother explained the concept of diarrhea right there.
“Well, why did it explode out of my bottom?” I asked after her explanation.
“Because it wanted to come out,” my grandmother said as she turned around and walked back to the house.
Relieved that I was not internally disemboweled while going to the bathroom, I cleaned myself, washed my hands, and headed back inside. My grandmother had taught me my first anatomy and physiology lesson.