Friday, November 9, 2007

Les Miserables in Palembang

No, no, they're not bringing the musical here. I've just been reminded of it because of a new discovery I made today. I've been back and forth on whether or not I should blog about this but in the end, I've come to the conclusion that its part of life here in Palembang and thats what my blog is about. Its a bit gross to think about so, don't read if you don't like gross.

Back in March, I had a post about our 2200W limitation at home. Then in July, there was our water crisis. Today's bit of news is the ultimate, mind boggling, thought provoking and unsettling discovery.

I found out that this entire neighborhood does not have a sewer system. Yes. No network of pipes to get rid of waste. I've been here nine months. Why didn't somebody tell me?? The toilets here all look normal. You go, you flush and thats it. No second thoughts about anything.

Its all an illusion. All three toilets in the house are basically composting toilets, except that they don't have individual composting units. There is just one giant one under the house. I didn't even know there was such a thing until I went googling today to find out why we don't smell anything and are all still healthy.

Composting toilets are actually used quite often these days and has become one of those environmentally friendly things to do. Apart from that aspect, they are used in drought stricken areas, in the outback, in RVs, cabins etc. They are basically modern outhouses. Dunnies!

I'm side tracking for a bit but its interesting trivia: Brisbane was supposedly largely un-sewered up until the early 1970s. I must ask my mother if this is true. I know Malaysia was un-sewered but I had always assumed that Brisbane was by then. Here is a photo of an outer Brisbane suburb from the 1950s. See the white row of dunnies behind the houses?

Anyway, I'm pretty sure that Palembang doesn't use the composting toilet for environmental reasons. They probably used the old fashioned outhouse until recently. The poorer areas probably STILL use them. I'm guessing that when housing developments for the rich were built, the city did not have any infrastructure for sewer systems but needed something better than the outhouse.

OK. So I know their system works. There are no epidemics and the neighborhood is not riddled with disease. There is no foul smelling odor. BUT, I'm still worried. According to what I read on the Wikipedia page, "when done right, the health and hygiene risk is no more significant than any other situation where there may be some level of fecal contamination (such as using a water-based toilet, changing baby diapers, taking a bath)". The keywords being "WHEN DONE RIGHT".

Every few years, the composting unit needs to be emptied. It seems that the time has come. How will I know that they will DO IT RIGHT?

I can't stop thinking about it...


Bilbo said...

I'm glad I read this before I went to lunch...

Back home in Pittsburgh in the 1950's and 60's we didn't have sewers either...we had a septic tank that had to be pumped out periodically. The access panel was in the driveway, a circle of concrete amid the packed gravel, and we had to be careful not to park on top of it, lest the car break through into ... well ... you know. I left home in 1973, and it wasn't until sometime in the mid-70's that we finally were connected to a county sewage system. Interesting topic. I'd be careful about selecting the people who empty the unit...this may not be the time to go with the lowest bidder.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Composting toilets sound awful.

Kellan said...

We have a septic system - sounds similar (?) - you are up to your ears over there in intersting things - aren't you. Have a great weekend.

Serina Hope said...

That would worry me too. But it is way better than an outhouse. I can't even imagine.
I hope you aren't a worrier like me. I tend to overdo it on occasion.
Maybe you should check in with the building management and see if they sound like they know what they are talking about.