Warning: If you were squeamish about my reports of public urinating and spitting, you may want to skip this blog entry. Lesley, that means you. ;o)
I am taking a walk on Marina Beach, in the heart of Chennai. I’ve been to the main part of this beach a number of times, but on this day I decide to explore one end of it a little further. I am running barefoot near the water’s edge, when I suddenly have to swerve to avoid a pile of shit on the sand. I’ve seen cattle brought to this water, and plenty of dogs roam the beach, so I assume that’s where it came from. I take a few more steps (now keeping my eyes glued to the ground!) and see another pile. And another. And another. I look up and look around, and only then realize that the men scattered around on the beach aren’t actually sitting, they are squatting, and they’re not just squatting to enjoy the scenery! It looks like I’ve stumbled onto some kind of unofficial community toilet.
I hightail it out of there, stepping gingerly as I walk. All of a sudden, the urinating on public streets that disgusted me so, is starting to look rather benign.
Unfortunately, this turns out to be an all-too-common scene on the beaches of Chennai. There will be a short stretch of beautiful beach, frequented by locals and visitors, that’s reasonably clean. At either end, the beach will be bordered by a slum area, the residents of which use the beach as a public toilet. Most of them live in dilapidated grass huts and don’t have any other kind of toilet to use. In some cases, the government has built public toilets, but they still don’t use them, preferring to use the beach.
I was very disappointed to find the same situation on the beach by my house as well. There is a very small area (maybe a quarter of a mile) that I can jog on. If I venture beyond that in either direction, jogging becomes nearly impossible.
Interestingly enough, I have never yet seen a woman squatting on the beach; it is always the men and the boys. Don’t women in the slums have to go??? When I ask someone about this, they tell me that women only go at night. Can you imagine navigating that landmine under the cover of darkness?! (Reminds me of that famous quote, that when they danced, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high-heels…)
I’m finding lots to love about India. But this, this is the one thing that I absolutely loathe about India.
(I figured my readers would appreciate NOT having any pictures accompany this blog entry....)