A celebration of Ethiopia’s most notable cultural heritage
Once in a while, a piece of toilet architecture stands out head and shoulders above the competition, sometimes enough to make a whole month of dragging yourself around UNESCO World Heritage Sites and unique geological creations somehow worthwhile. This glorious example tucked away in the back-end of Abozo in southern Ethiopia will surely soon be turning this quiet little village into a major tourist hub, as the masses flock to get a slice of the action.
With so many highlights it is difficult to know where to start but the carefree approach to material selection would surely be a good point: the variety is astounding, not just one, but three types of plastic, elegantly contrasted with mixed hues of corrugated iron, carefully chosen from a range of historical periods. Timber juxtaposed at rakish angles adds a stunning geometrical elegance to the overall design, particularly effective where it blends almost seamlessly into the fine craftwork fence.
Standing back to appreciate this masterpiece, no one could help but notice the innovative incorporation of living plant life, exploiting the lush fecundity of the facility’s full, fertilising potential. But it’s not until you actually get in there and use this magnum opus of the lavatorial world that you can truly appreciate its design genius, and believe me I had trouble holding myself back from the opportunity to try out this once in a lifetime experience. Dispensing with the traditional raised foot pieces, one is confronted with the profound, minimalist challenge of a small, circular hole in a flat, concrete surface, elegantly flecked with part fossilised material, in a range of delicate, dark browns, just waiting to be immortalised in a fashionable paint catalogue. Western toilet users, unused to such arrangements may not appreciate the complexities of attempting to perform both functions simultaneously in the classic, crouching position, whilst endeavouring to aim everything at such a small target. Unless I am a medical oddity, carrying out the rear activity without something happening at the front end on occasion is no simple matter. Consequently I would recommend some stout footwear with a good depth of sole in order to keep the feet dry.
Once in place you can marvel at the imaginative, spatial positioning which affords a fine view of the neighbours in their garden on one side and the opportunity to engage with passers-by on the adjoining path on the other side. Alas my poor grasp of regional, Ethiopian dialects did not allow me to fully convey my unbridled pleasure of the experience to the villagers who were on their way to the market but no doubt they had some sense of our mutual admiration for this near religious encounter.
It can only be a matter of time before the world’s toilet aficionados are making a pilgrimage to Ethiopia and daring explorers are hunting down further examples of what must be on offer lurking in the back streets and by-ways of the country.