“People have been using human waste as fertilizer for centuries. It’s even got a pleasant name: night soil.”

The humidity is so thick you can see it in the air. The AC is already working its hardest to cool the house. Outside is mostly cloudy and 80°. The humidity is 79°. Both dogs are asleep on the couch. My dance card is empty, and I am thankful.

My muse is among the missing again today. I figured I’d tell a few stories about my time in Ghana. Some you know, but they are worth repeating.

At my friends’ house in Tafo, they didn’t have running water. They did have outhouses in the yard, but because they lived on the second floor, you sort of had to plan your outhouse trip ahead of time. On one visit, I had travelers’ bane, a woeful curse. I had to break land speed records to get to the outhouse. I sat there a while then I heard a noise below me. I jumped up. A head popped into the hole above which I had been sitting. A man saw me and said, “Hello, madam.” I said hello back. He grabbed the now filled bucket, emptied it, put it back then said good-bye. He was the night soil man.

I heard a knock at my door. I looked and saw a man I didn’t know standing in front of my screen door. I went over, and he greeted me. I returned the greeting. Greetings are a wonderful part of the Ghanaian culture and were our first lessons during language training, Hausa for me. He very politely told me he was looking for a white woman to be his friend which meant a whole lot more than friendship. I politely declined, and he asked me if I knew any Canadian women. I said no. He thanked me and left.

Students used to visit me at night as they had a bit of time at the end of the required study time and lights out. One night I remember my student, Mary Kanubula, talking about Mary and the birth of Jesus. I have no memory of how that became the topic of conversation, but she had a theory she wanted to share. She didn’t believe in the virgin birth. It made no sense to her. She told me an angel came to earth and had his way with Mary, though in her words he f’ed her. She got pregnant. That was it.

One of my favorite of all Ghanaian sayings was when a student explained she had gone to my house and met my absence. I wasn’t home.

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4 Comments on ““People have been using human waste as fertilizer for centuries. It’s even got a pleasant name: night soil.””

  1. Bob Says:

    Hi Kat,

    Here the sky is partly cloudy with a predicted high temperature of only 102°. Normally by this time of July the humidity would be much lower thus allowing the temperature to increase higher into the triple digits. Unfortunately, this is not a normal summer. The record high for today is 107°. You have to remember that Dallas Texas is on the same latitude as the Sahara Desert. 🙂

    We are planning to spend most of the afternoon in the pool. My better half grilled hotdogs on the outside gas grill for lunch and she said the humidity is horrendous outside. Right now the temperature is only 97°.

    People have been recycling everything since the beginning of time. Both human and animal waste has been used as fuel and animal droppings as building material. My grandparents’ generation used every part of the animals we consumed. My grandmother would make chicken soup including the chicken’s feet. She would cook up the gizzards and the neck bones separately to keep the soup clear.

    When I was a kid she was buying store bought noodles instead of making her own from scratch. I always wanted to know where one buys the scratch part in homemade recipes. 🙂

    • katry Says:

      Hi Bob,
      We are just about at the high for today. The sun pops in and out. There is a wonderful breeze, and it helps make the day feel just a bit cooler. I don’t remember us here on the Cape ever having a day over 100°.

      I am nice and cool, and I see a nap in my immediate future.

      We used to make what I called head and feet broth. We’d boil those parts to make a great broth. At the height of the rainy season, the fields smelled of human waste. The farmers used to poop in the fields so they could continue working. Goat poop was fuel. Ghanaians wasted nothing.

      I think now, more than ever, scratch has fallen by the wayside. I always make scratch brownies and cakes. Most people I know don’t. I seldom buy a box of any dessert to make.

      • Bob Says:

        After getting out of the pool it doesn’t feel too bad. We’ve had mostly cloudy skies with a current temperature at the century mark and a very light breeze. The hottest summer on record, 1980, one evening on the ten o’clock weather, the weather lady displayed the temperature in Celsius. That way it doesn’t feel quite so bad. 🙂

      • katry Says:

        I turned off the AC last night but turned on the window unit in my bedroom. It was pleasant for sleeping.

        I never remember how to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit. When I traveled through South America, I knew then as I had to keep converting.

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