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Shittin' in the 'Stan


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Not sure if this is politics or what...

NATO's potty rules shut out Afghans


From Monday's Globe and Mail

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — Under a bizarre policy that echoes the days of segregation in the United States, Afghans who work at the NATO base at Kandahar Airfield must use separate toilets marked "local nationals only."

Several Afghans told The Globe and Mail the practice is insulting, but they are dependent on NATO for their livelihoods and reluctant to speak out.

Lieutenant-Colonel Jack Blevins, the U.S. officer in charge of administrative contracts, said the segregated toilet policy exists because the bathroom habits of the Afghans are different from those of the North Americans and Europeans who work at the base.

"We've always had this policy," Lt.-Col. Blevins said. "It's not based on a racial thing; it's just how they use the toilets. They're not used to toilets. They use squats, or holes in the ground."

One Afghan, who has worked at the base for five years as an interpreter, laughed at this suggestion.

He can't give his name because he works with the coalition and is afraid of being targeted by insurgents.

"I don't see any reason for separate bathrooms," he said. "Everybody is human, so it should be one [toilet]."

He said that foreign soldiers told him they wouldn't use the same toilets as Afghans because they are afraid of catching something contagious.

"Soldiers say they're scared of local people who might have disease," he said. "Personally, I [do] not like that, but this is the way of the army so you have to respect that."

The issue came to light when a Globe reporter tried to use the toilets near the main gate at Kandahar Airfield. The guard on duty directed the reporter to toilets 30 metres away, saying the ones directly in front of him were for the Afghans.

Lt.-Col. Blevins said he thinks of the policy as a cultural accommodation, and it makes life easier for the cleaners.

"When they [the Afghans] use our port-a-potties, they stand on the seats and it causes quite a mess," he said. "I think it's just a cultural thing."

The toilets reserved for Afghans typically have the words "local nationals" written on the door, and are a different colour than the ones reserved for non-Afghans. The toilets look the same on the inside, except the plastic seat is sometimes removed from the local national toilets. Afghans say there aren't enough toilets to accommodate them, and theirs aren't as well cleaned as the ones reserved for foreigners.

"It's not fair," said Qaseem, an Afghan interpreter who works at the base.

He said some foreigners will use the local bathrooms when the lines are long and it suits them, but local Afghans can't use the bathrooms reserved for the foreigners.

"Some of the army guys, they use the local bathroom, so we should be able to use their bathrooms, too."

As he speaks, his uncle comes over to say that the separate bathrooms are very nice, and that he's grateful to NATO for coming to Afghanistan and he hopes they will stay a long time.

Other Afghans who stand in line waiting to be searched as they leave the NATO base said they can accept having to use separate bathrooms and don't see it as a significant hardship.

A few Afghan employees have the privilege of being able to use either set of toilets because they have worked with the coalition long enough to be considered trusted agents.

Qaseem said the problem comes down to the way Afghans use water to clean themselves before praying. The foreigners don't like it, he said.

Lt.-Col. Blevins said there can be problems if water bottles, used by the Afghans in their ablutions, have to be fished out of the toilets. Although Afghans are strongly encouraged to use the toilets marked "local nationals only," they wouldn't be prevented from using another bathroom in an emergency, he said.

There are also security issues to be considered, he said. Some foreign-only bathrooms are close to the soldiers' sleeping quarters, which need to be protected.

More than 1,200 local people come through the gates of Kandahar Airfield most days, according to the Canadian guards who operate the main entrance.

They work in a variety of jobs, from manual labour to translation. They are the Afghans who, in a conflict increasingly characterized as a battle for hearts and minds, have the most direct contact with coalition forces.

Relations between the workers and military personnel range from collegial friendships to wariness and suspicion. Translators, partly because they speak English, can become quite close to some officers, while labourers required to have a permanent military escort are not treated with the same consideration.

They are hired under an Afghans-first policy, which seeks to employee as many local people as possible to ensure they see the economic benefits of the foreign presence.

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And in somewhat related news.

UMM AL NASR, Gaza Strip (AFP) - At least four Palestinians drowned in a "sewage tsunami" on Tuesday when a water treatment reservoir burst, flooding a village in the northern Gaza Strip.


The deluge, triggered by the collapse of a septic system aid organisations had long warned was dangerously overburdened, submerged dozens of homes in the Bedouin farming village of Umm al-Nasr beneath a cesspool of foul-smelling effluent.

Two women, one more than 70 years old, and two toddlers aged one and two died in the flood. At least 15 people were injured and scores more are still missing, according to Palestinian medics.

Village children clung to wooden doors floating on the putrid waters and rescuers paddled through the village in makeshift boats in search of victims. Frantic goats and cows were also pulled to safety.

Village mayor Ziad Abu Thabet said 70 percent of the village's mostly ramshackle homes had been buried in raw sewage.

"The situation is very bad," the mayor said.

By late afternoon, receding flood waters had left a stinking scum that further hampered rescue efforts.

Palestinian television proclaimed a "sewage tsunami" had rocked Gaza. An advisor to president Mahmud Abbas declared the village a disaster area.

Newly appointed interior minister Hani al-Qawasmeh rushed to the scene to inspect the damage, but angry villagers chased him off. They opened fire on his convoy and wounded two policemen, witnesses said.

In Israel, Defence Minister Amir Peretz ordered the army to provide assistance to the victims if asked to do so by the Palestinian Authority.

The Hamas movement, the leading partner in a newly formed Palestinian unity government, blamed the disaster on a foreign aid boycott slapped on the Palestinian Authority a year ago when the Islamist hardliners first came to power. Israel and the West consider Hamas a terrorist outfit.

"The overflowing of the basin is one of the results of the suspension of international aid to our people, which is preventing the government from improving and developing infrastructure," Hamas said in a statement.

As far back as January 2004, UN aid agencies in the Gaza Strip had warned that the north Gaza sewage treatment facility was operating far beyond its capacity and posed a grave danger to nearby residents.

Designed to serve just 50,000 people, the plant at that time was handling waste from 190,000 Gaza residents.

Excess sewage had already flooded around 110 acres, and 50 percent of children in Umm Al-Nasr had developed problems with their digestive systems, a UN report found.

"Unless action is taken to address this problem, water in this effluent lake will spill out over the holding basins into residential areas, and directly into homes," the report concluded.


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That is so so stupid. In most bathrooms where different ethnicities are using the same shitter, there are stalls with toilets and stalls with squat toilets housed in the same washroom. Most international airports I've been in have had this.

And yes, I've used the squat toilet because it's more fun.

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That is so so stupid. In most bathrooms where different ethnicities are using the same shitter, there are stalls with toilets and stalls with squat toilets housed in the same washroom. Most international airports I've been in have had this.

And yes, I've used the squat toilet because it's more fun.

i think the point is it's not a constructed washroom in an international airport, it's an outhouse in afghanistan.

i can't get used to a squat, the first couple times i shat in the 'stan i cam within inches of shitting on my feet. i hate squatting. doesn't seem good for the stomach. real blow-outs must cause people to fall over.


back to the scat

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i think the squat is way better...and the water cleaning thing too. imagine all the toilet paper the world would not be using. i was actually sorry to not have one when i came back from asia. i feel bad about the toilet paper all the time.

after a couple of months of practice, the squat becomes second nature. the whole thing is sort of amusing though, i can just imagine someone used to squatting trying to work out how the hell westerners stay balanced on the seat 2 feet off the ground while tring to poop.

i have heard many cases of this, i have a friend who is a maintenance guy at a factory that employs a lot of new canadians. they eventually installed a couple of squatters after repeatedly replacing trodden on toilet seats.

vive la difference :P

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