Monday, April 6, 2009

There's a Mean New Sheriff in Town

Snoop Doggy Dogg is now five months old and he is the rowdiest, most playful puppy ever! He is so disproportionately shaped it is kind of hilarious – his legs and his midsection have yet to catch up with his head and his tail, so every time he sees me coming he gets so excited that he wags his tail so hard that his entire body wags back and forth to counter the momentum! Because when Snoop Doggy Dogg sees me coming he knows that we’re going to wrestle!!!

Snoop Dogg is not only the pokiest puppy ever in the whole wide world, but he is also as dumb as rocks. One of our favorite games is Snoop will try to chew my toes and I’ll kick him in the face and then he’ll try to chew my toes again and I’ll kick him in the face... We could play for hours and it’ll never get old. When our wrestling gets really intense Snoop will try to jump on my legs and knock me down, and so I’ll do the old “Boop – got your nose!” trick and hold him by the snout and if I pin his legs down with the other he doesn’t know what to do and he wriggles helplessly and whimpers.

As dumb as he might be, Snoop is actually quite artful when it comes to wrestling other doggies. The other four puppies in his litter have been distributed to human families throughout the neighborhood, so when we go for a walk and Snoop sees one of his brothers he goes ballistic and gallops down the street to pounce on them and knock them over into the death position.

Snoop fights dirty. One of his best moves is to wait until one of his brothers is squatting to take a poop and he’ll start galloping and with a running start he’ll leap and knock ‘em over! The other puppies don’t see it coming and are incapable of mounting a defense! For such a dumbass he’s a brilliant tactician.

So I was walking with Snoop down the road to my jatigi’s house, past the clinic where all the moms come to bring their shriveled little babies dehydrated from giardia diarrhea or amoebic dysentery, past the brand new schoolhouse and nyegens that the Japanese NGO just built and past the field where the kids run and play and defecate.

Karitie was right – the elementary schoolchildren continue to shit outside even when there are brand new, nice and clean nyegens open and available for their evacuating pleasure. And it’s really funny watching these kids try to hide themselves out of sight and pulling their pants down far enough to hide their little butts – they don’t want anyone to see that they’re taking a dump, and they’ll go out of their way to crouch down low in the field so that no one can see them, but they won’t walk 20 meters further to the nyegen where they could do their business behind closed doors. Often I will walk by and the kids will be shitting right next to the brand new nyegens. The issue isn’t that there aren’t enough nyegens per head or that they are improperly maintained (I have already taken care of that). The issue is that kids in Mali grow up the first four or five years of their lives naked from the waist down and their parents just let them shit wherever they feel like it, and when they start going to school at age six its difficult to get them to change gears and undo the most terrible of ingrained habits.

“Open defecation” – the technical term we sanitarians use for shitting in a field – is just about the worst behavior which kids could possibly conduct on the elementary school grounds in terms of disease transmission. This isn’t an issue of cultural relativism – it’s an issue of life and death. Sanadougou is a village where the 2nd highest cause of child mortality is diarrhea, a symptom of bacterial or parasitic infection which is transmitted by fecal contamination of water sources or the simple hand-to-mouth route. Allowing Malian kids to take a dump in the same field where their friends play soccer is like allowing prostitutes in Mozambique to sell sex without a condom, it’s like allowing American kindergarteners to bring a semiautomatic rifle to show-and-tell – this behavior is downright dangerous and it is irresponsible for adult members of this society to let it continue without punishment.

“I know it is very bad, that is why I teach the children to poop in the nyegens!” Karitie says.

“Well apparently your lessons haven’t been absorbed very well because your students are still shitting in the field.”

“We teachers have more important things to teach the children such as spelling and mathematics! You don’t have to teach class, so you should teach them that pooping in the field is bad.”

“Will you let me teach the first-graders a class on how to go to the bathroom?”

“No, now they must become literate. But from now on when you see children pooping in the field you should beat them! I, as Director of the Schools of the Commune of Sanadougou, grant you explicit permission to use corporal punishment to instill discipline.”

“NO!!! If I did that then the Peace Corps would like court-martial me or something.”

In truth, when I see these kids crapping in public I should beat them. However, I do not believe in using violence unless it is absolutely necessary and instead prefer to combat unsanitary behavior through the hard power of economic incentives and the soul power of satyagraha i.e. active non-violent resistance. Without a mechanism for negative reinforcement these hazardous habits will continue unabated, so I need to develop some non-violent means of associating the act of open defecation on the elementary school recreation field with the due consequences of filthiness and public humiliation. These negative repercussions need to be hammered in so deeply that the association between open defecation and shame is internalized and they will cease such atrocious behavior on their own.

I will never beat the kids in my village but I will let my puppy play with them. Forget about Pavlov’s dog – the schoolchildren of Sanadougou elementary are getting to know Madu’s dog!

It turns out that building a lifeguard chair on the field next to the schoolhouse is unnecessary because I have a perfectly expansive view of that field from my concession. While I’m working in the garden or even while I’m reclining under my gwa shoving mangoes into my face I can spot these evildoing dirty-bombers with ease.

Now I’m beginning to conduct an experiment in social psychology and public sanitation in which every time I see kids defecating out in the open, I rile up Snoop Doggy Dogg and get him in a playful wrestling mood. And I open the gate and lead him towards the schoolyard.

“See that little boy squatting in the field? He’s your new friend! He wants to play with you!”

Snoop then goes galloping into the sunset to show these kids some tough love – tough puppy love, that is!


1 comment:

Adrian said...

You should apply for a grant to fund your innovative public health initiative. Then you'll be able to train dozens of puppies to tackle children pooping in public.