Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Of Composting Toilets and Life in Community

Many parts of life in Mozambique differ greatly from the lives of our friends and family in the US.  From strange foods, to odd customs, to the challenge of juggling multiple languages, we end up having plenty to share about as we try to explain just what exactly we do over here.  But when we talk about daily life in Africa the thing that provokes the most grimaces from listeners is the fact that we do not have a flush toilet.
Our family is using composting toilets...which is just a nice way of saying that we go to the bathroom in a bucket.  

The main reasons why we decided to do this were that we had experienced severe water shortages, and that I was tired of dealing with Mozambican plumbing parts.  They constantly leak and break, and in our last rental house especially the plumbing system was so poorly designed that it always smelled bad.  So, when we built this house we decided to go with composting toilets. Our friends, the Caldwells and Holtons had used this method for years in another part of Mozambique so that made the concept a little easier to implement.

So how does this actually work? Well, I will try not to be crass with my descriptions... I know how quickly this post could start to go down the...bucket (?).  In our bathroom, we keep a bucket of sawdust nearby (teak shavings from the local sawmill, typically) and anytime someone makes a deposit in the bucket, they scoop up some sawdust and cover it up.  The sawdust soaks up all the moisture and the lack of moisture knocks down the smell. It is then my job every week to take the buckets outside and dispose of the contents.  I empty the buckets into a little fenced-in compost pile, I cover everything up with leaves, dirt or more sawdust.  After the waste has sat for a full year it becomes ready-to-use compost.  

It was brought to my attention recently that I had hurt a friend's feelings, so a plan was made to sit down and talk it out.  It took some time between realizing the need to work it out and actually making the meeting happen, and I was nervous.  I dreaded the uncomfortable pauses in conversation, and part of me wished we could just leave things be.  But ultimately I had confidence that we would be able to clear everything up, I just knew we would have to deal with the mess first.

It just so happened that both my composting duties and this conversation happened on the same day. 

So, in the morning while I was taking out our family's buckets I reflected on the fact that later that day we would be taking out the buckets in that relationship.  It is not always pleasant work but it must be done.

In his book, Life Together, Bonhoeffer writes that, “The brother is a burden to the Christian, precisely because he is a Christian. For the...(non-Christian who is not interested in life in community) the other person never becomes a burden at all... (because) he simply sidesteps every burden that others may impose upon him."

There is a cost to living in community. 

It requires vulnerability. 

It requires trust. 
But most of all it requires a willingness by everyone involved to get their hands dirty - a willingness to bear each others burdens.  Rachel and I have felt that being a part of a mission team - a community that lives, works and prays together - has brought us both some of the greatest blessings and some of the hardest challenges over the last decade or so.

I am thankful to be a part of a group that is willing to take out the buckets with me, willing to do the hard work of being a community - the hard work of truly being the church.

Grace and Peace,

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