I had read the stories from New York and London. These were, I insisted, first world problems. So what if flushable wet wipes were clogging sewers? So what if they didn’t actually dissolve? Clearly, those sewers were designed for fragile, first world poop.
Kenyan sewers were designed to handle African poop. Poop made from ugali and githeri, roasted maize and boiled eggs, mutura and nyama choma, barely cooked offal and overcooked mutton. Poop crawling with tapeworms and threadworms and all the other worms we had to memorize in Standard Six. Hard poop, accustomed to poverty and dehydration, to unregulated food and killer diseases. Tough, like African workers. Surely, flushable wet wipes made for delicate first world butts and sewers would not conquer Kenyan sewers.
The sewer is blocked. I am the problem.
The water flows from my mother’s bathroom through my bathroom, through the kitchen to the septic tank. Water flows easily from my mother’s bathroom, through her portion of the sewer. The plumber illustrated this flow. The access to my sewer is clogged: green, brackish, still. Nothing flows. Water from the kitchen flows to the septic tank. I am the problem. The great clogger. I have proved that Kenyan sewers fail.
That is not all.
The nice plumber, after struggling to unclog my passages—I am them, they are mine—decided to try something else. He went to the house’s septic tank and tried to unclog the sewer from there. On opening the septic tank, he found it full of dry soil. Rats had built little tunnels in and around the septic tank. They were playing.
Perhaps, I thought, I was not the problem. It was the rats! It was the septic tank full of dry soil! It was the years of neglect. It was not me.
But I was still the great obstruction. It was now a double job: to clear the soil from the septic tank so the water could flow through the sewer and to clear my clogged portion of the sewer.
The plumber rigged something, a long plastic tube with a piece of sacking packed at the end. He donned gloves. Little by little, he began to remove the un-flushable wet wipes. Some came out in clumps. Others came out one by one. A sad, wet, smelly pile. With each one, my sense of shame increased. “These are the problem,” he intoned every few minutes. “These are very bad,” he repeated. Wet wipe. “These are terrible.” Wet wipe. “These don’t flush.” Wet wipe. Wet wipe. Wet wipe. “These clog up the system.” Wet wipe. “You shouldn’t be using these.” Wet wipe. Wet wipe. Wet wipe.
A sad mountain of imported wet wipes, available from one store in Nairobi, unable to navigate sewers designed for African poop. My gift to the world. My shame.
As each clump emerged, a little more water began to flow. Unclogging was happening. Water was flowing. The ripe smell of old sewage filled the house. We closed the windows. The smell continued to filter in, to flavor our food and our moods.
Once the plumber had assembled a little hill of wet wipes, he proceeded to dig the septic tank. A bucket was mobilized. Filled with soil. More soil. More soil. Soil full of rat droppings, assorted plastics, old pads, even pieces of old clothing including underwear. Who had flushed these things down the toilet? Were they not the real culprit? Was I not absolved?
Except, they were in the septic tank. Clogging it, making sure nothing flowed toward it, but not causing the blockage between my mother’s bathroom and the kitchen sink.
As the plumber worked, I stood next to him, bearing witness to my work, to the failure of imported wet wipes to navigate African sewers, to the failure of African water pressure to generate enough power to dissolve un-flushable wet wipes that did not dissolve in London and New York, to the failures of those people who built this house in the late 60s and did not anticipate that we would need systems that could handle wet wipes, to all these failures of imagination and invention that clogged up my portion of the sewer.
I could no longer bear to look at the wet wipes. At my folly. I went into the house and hid.
When the plumber was finally done, when he had left, I donned a double pair of latex gloves, sacrificed one of my favorite buckets, a small red one, and approached the small hill of wet, stinky, un-flushable wet wipes. I did not hold my breath. This was going to be penance. I gathered them into the bucket, one by one, green and squishy, slimy and pungent, one by one. Piled them into a bucket. Walked them to a portion of the backyard that we don’t use. I grabbed a spade. Dug a hole. Poured them in. Grabbed some wood ash. Covered them.
I then went online to figure out how to switch to the bucket method.
Popula is 100% ad-free, reader-supported journalism accountable only to you. Every dollar of your subscription goes straight to our work. Thank you for supporting Popula.
Hmm, looks like you don’t have MetaMask activated!
If you know what MetaMask is and have it installed, activate MetaMask and refresh:
If that doesn’t make sense to you, click here:
The MetaMask window should have popped up and asked if you want Popula to have access to your MetaMask. Click the ‘CONFIRM’ button.
Don’t see the MetaMask window? Click here to request it again:
You have an old version of the MetaMask extension installed. Before we can continue, you must install the latest version.
- Uninstall (don’t just disable) the existing extension from your browser.
- Restart your browser.
- Go to metamask.io and re-install the extension.
- Come back here and try again!
We know this step is inconvenient, but it’s necessary to make sure this all goes smoothly!
Your MetaMask extension is running, but for privacy purposes you have to allow us to connect to your MetaMask wallet.
You need to connect to the Main Net before you can actually tip. Click on your MetaMask icon so the window pops up, then select ‘Main Ethereum Network’ from the dropdown.
How much do you want to tip?
You can adjust either amount to see how much ETH or USD you’ll be sending.
You can adjust the tip amount in the MetaMask popup window before confirming the transaction.
Popula’s authors contribute 5% of their tips to Popula to help with the overhead of running the tipping system.
Author participation in the Popula tipping system is optional; if an author declines to participate in the tipping system, your tip will be refunded to you in full within 60 days.
Your MetaMask window has popped up now, and you need to confirm the transaction.
Hit that ‘CONFIRM’ button to make it happen!
Did you reject the transaction by accident? Want to adjust your tip amount? Click here:
Maybe you’re not quite comfortable with this yet?
That transaction didn’t go through for some reason.
Try clicking on the MetaMask button in your browser bar (looks like this: ) and see if you have any transactions listed at the bottom of the popup. If you don’t see the tip you just tried to leave, then try again:
Or just want to ask us about it? We’ look into it personally for you.
Thank you so much for your tip, and for your direct support of journalism. The author will appreciate it a lot, and so do all of us at Popula.
Want a receipt?
To see your transaction logged in MetaMask, click the MetaMask button in your browser toolbar—this one: —and your transaction will be listed in the popup.
You can also track the transaction on the Etherscan website. It usually takes under a minute to process, and you’ll get a notification from MetaMask when it’s done.Track on Etherscan
If you have any questions at all, please let us know!
All set?Home to Popula, please!
We know this cryptocurrency stuff is new and weird. We’re here to help you understand. Ask us firstname.lastname@example.org
ETH is Ether, a popular cryptocurrency generated on the Ethereum blockchain.
You’ll need some Ethereum cryptocurrency (ETH) in a MetaMask wallet in order to tip an author. Currently it’s not possible to tip in other cryptocurrencies, or in dollars or other fiat currencies.
For a comprehensive FAQ to help get you started, please visit our help page, “How to Tip Your Favorite Authors with Cryptocurrency on Popula!”
If you have any questions at all, please let us know!