I’ve gone off tea!
As I was drinking my early morning cup of tea a few days ago, I saw a report on BBC World News that made my stomach churn.
The report was from a tea plantation in Assam, India. It showed the wretched conditions that employees lived in, even though there are laws that require employers on plantations to provide adequate living conditions for all workers.
Their homes had holes in the roof, allowing malaria-carrying mosquitoes inside in massive numbers. Holes in the sides of the “houses” allowed in the rain.
But, worst of all, there were no toilet facilities whatsoever. One woman said she had not been able to use a proper toilet for 36 years! A big hole in the ground was being used by some employees – a hole that was just a few inches away from another hole that was the community’s drinking water.
The next piece of information is what’s making me contemplate drinking nothing but water in the morning!
The program said that most employees, not having access to any toilet facility, simply went into the tea bushes and relieved themselves amongst the bushes. Yes, puts you right off your morning cuppa.
I had often wondered what gave my tea it’s distinctive tang. Now I know!
Lest you coffee drinkers think this problem is restricted to tea, don’t be so complacent. I lived in Africa long enough to know this is a universal problem once you get outside of the West.
It should also be said that tea and coffee are not the only foods affected. I read some years ago that subsistence farmers south of the US border often use bushes the same way – and the food they produce, notably strawberries, can legally be classified “organic.” I haven’t eaten an organic strawberry since!
One of the managers in Assam was asked why they haven’t given the workers functioning toilets. He looked rather bewildered at the question and said that the law allows employers five years to provide them. Five years??? That’s a long time to go without a bathroom break!
The fact is that, in many countries around the world, they don’t think about toilet facilities. India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, yet less than 50% of its people have any sanitation in their homes.
When I was overseeing the building of a church in Ghana, I remember looking over the architect’s plans and asking: “Isn’t something missing?” Again, there was that look of bewilderment. I had to be more blunt. “Where are the toilets?” He hadn’t thought about toilet facilities in the building. To be brutally frank, he probably hadn’t thought about them for any building he had designed. Even the ministers present had not given it any thought. Congregants would be expected to go and use the bushes just like anybody else.
It’s a cultural thing.
It’s been over 400 years since John Harrington invented the first flush toilet in England. However, it wasn’t until Thomas Crapper came along that flush toilets became the norm. His factory in London mass produced toilets and sold them everywhere. His product became ubiquitous, but his name lived on only in it’s shortened form!
Not everybody liked flush toilets. I remember visiting an old American fort where our tour-guide informed us that soldiers stationed there were afraid of using them when they were installed. At the same time, it should be said that they didn’t like the army’s rule insisting they take a bath once a month, either!
Toilets were exported to all parts of the world. But this is where cultures played a part.
I remember talking to an African minister in Ghana about the lack of facilities. Although, often, the basic flush toilet was present, all too frequently it was in a terrible condition and was not functional. I asked him when this problem started. His response was quite telling: “As soon as Her Majesty’s representative left!”
In other words, at independence. Freed from British rule, they no longer considered rudimentary hygiene important.
At the same time, skilled plumbers left the country and maintenance became a thing of the past.
In fact, the same man told me that there is no word for “maintenance” in the local language. It’s just so much easier to go into the bushes!
It’s no good blaming Twining’s or any other western tea distributor – the local culture is the problem. And that’s not likely to change.