Those who have had their fill of my Papua New Guinea stories may be well advised to leave before this one gets under way.
It is a tale of (among other things) how even the finest of human beings sometimes have difficulty ascending to the throne of leadership, and stumble under pressure at the last hurdle.
Missionaries, such as my old friend, Father Tom (here), together with Australian Government patrol officers did much to improve health outcomes in many remote areas of Papua New Guinea during the 1960's.
Some projects were more successful than others.
People in lowland areas of PNG suffer from endemic malaria, and in Fr. Toms district, infant mortality to age 5 was 50%, due to malaria, dietary protein deficiency, and gastro-intestinal infections. A nation-wide program was begun to introduce pit toilets, and Fr. Tom selected a nearby village for his first demonstration.
He explained the concept to the village Luluai (L) and Tultul (T) (generic titles for village chiefs), and left design diagrams with them.
PNG village society has survived for countless centuries without new fangled devices such as toilets, so L & T enthusiastically promised to build the structure just to humor the funny white man, knowing that none of his clan would ever easily adopt the concept of crapping in the same place more than once.
The small village consisted of 20 or so bush material huts built around the perimeter of a 50 metre diameter brushed-earth village square.
(I am retrospectively thinking that perhaps a "square" mostly does not have a "diameter", but I beg forgiveness on the grounds of ignorance, stupidity, linguistic licence or all three, and that maybe a "village square" per se need not necessarily have four sides of precisely equal length, or indeed any straight sides at all, and yet still be qualified for the "village square" nomenclature, in which case the average distance across it could loosely be termed the "diameter". It may also be argued that the term "village square" may denote social purpose rather than geometric configuration, in which case a village square may be more or less circular thus qualifying it to have a genuine "diameter".)
Isn't it good that we cleared that little matter up so concisely?
L & T selected a central location and instructed the village men to dig the prescribed pit 6 feet deep with the shovels left by Fr. Tom.
After 2 feet they hit bedrock.
L & T went into conference and deliberated over this unforseen impediment to progress, and proposed a logical solution. If you can't dig a pit toilet DOWN, then you obviously have to build one UP.
And so it was that a magnificent hollow-centred pyramid six feet high was constructed from softer earth scraped from the near vicinity. The central core was reinforced with bush logs to prevent inward collapse. An appropriate seat was carved from bush timber and mounted on the top. A modesty wall woven from plaited bamboo strips was erected around the summit and the project declared complete. No roof was considered necessary because no-one was likely to use it….apart from, apparently, the visiting missionaries and patrol officers who kept coming up with all these peculiar ideas.
According to custom, new projects require ritual and ceremony before use, so Fr. Tom was summonsed to not only provide a spiritual blessing of the facility, but also to contribute a more practical "blessing" as a demonstration of how this modern convenience should be used.
So, surrounded by the entire village community, Fr Tom completed the religious formalities, cut the ribbon, then followed the steps to the top and mounted the pedestal.
The surrounding privacy walls, whilst perfectly satisfactory for people of PNG short stature, unfortunately only reached up to neck height on the sitting Fr. Tom.
Somewhere during the process of focussing on the sea of inquisitive eyes below him, he rapidly and understandably became distracted from the immediate task at hand.
His failure to perform under pressure was a major setback to hygiene improvement in Papua New Guinea.