Operation Matuvi

I swear it will be the next, big, reality TV show.  A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of joining one of our esteem Traditional Leaders (aka H.R.H) and a district team for a trip into the depths of Zambia’s Eastern Province, in what the team dubbed Operation Matuvi (“Operation Shit”).

I know this may come as a surprise to some of you, but there are still people out there who don’t seem fazed by eating one another’s shit.  For the majority of people, once they are taken through the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) process, which involves several steps in helping a community recognise that shit left in the open eventually makes its way back to your mouth, most are so appalled and ashamed they leap into action.  However, there are always the exceptions, and since their open defection affects everyone else, it was decided that enough was enough.

Led by our fearless HRH, the team planned to hit 10 villages, checking each household for adequate latrines and signs of open defecation.  All those found wanting could be punished according to the country’s Chiefdoms Act.  It didn’t take long to see that hell hath no fury like HRH’s wrath.  House by house, those missing a latrine and practising unsanitised acts were given a stern lecture by HRH, and offered a choice of punishment:  ZK150 (~AU$30, in other words, a lot by Zambian standards), a goat, or a place in the “courtesy vehicle” where they would be taken to the palace for a day labouring in the fields.

Village by village, the affectionately-named “Truck of Shame” became overflowing with offenders.  At the same time, the roof of our own vehicle became home to a number of bleating, crying, screaming, defenceless goats offered in payment, usually by headmen who would rather give over a goat than bear the shame of being trucked with the others to HRH’s palace.  Of course, in such places, word spreads quickly, and as we drove on to the next village, you could see people disappearing on bicycles to escape the chastisement awaiting them.

At the end of the day, with no more room left in the Truck of Shame, HRH took us to one final village.  This village was one that had recently been declared Open Defecation Free (ODF), and we were brought here to witness what an adequate latrine looks like, what is expected of everybody in the Chiefdom, and how to go about it.  In this sense, it is not only a credit to HRH’s leadership that the day’s activities were less about punishment than about teaching people a lesson, but it was also humbling to see HRH getting their hands dirty (literally) to provide this teaching themself.  It is not every day that royalty comes to your house, looks in your loo for signs of shit, and then proceeds to get down on their knees and scrub the toilet floor to make it nice and shiny, as a demonstration to their noncompliant subjects.  Respect.

I went back to this Chiefdom two weeks later, and with the number of people I saw working on building latrines, it is clear the HRH’s efforts were worth it.  With an Open Defecation Free Chiefdom in sight, I can’t wait for the next instalment of “Operation Matuvi”.  Tune in on MTV.

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