When Gazette Paper was King of the Throne!

A Latrine Tale!

There was a time, not so long ago in Trinidad and Tobago, when pipe borne water was a luxury in a person's property. This is the period that the gazette paper was "King of the Throne!". Those who had pipe-borne water in their homes had the luxury of a toilet inside their homes - something we take for granted today. For those of us who were not so fortunate, there was the classic latrine. This latrine was usually located at the back of the property. Some people simply dug a square hole and erected a small building over the hole with a wooden seat to accommodate the users. There was some science to the project and everyone knew the typical dept to dig so as not to get close to the water table. Some folks used 'barrels' while others got creative and used concrete blocks. However, most folks simply dug a hole and placed the building over it. When the latrine had served its purpose and it was time for a new one the site was covered up and later on fig trees (banana trees) were planted there - they flourished my friends!

One very interesting thing about the latrines was the various means people used to clean up after they finished doing their business.  I don't know the percentage but a lot of people of East Indian descent had bottles of water in their latrines (use your imagination here). Most people had a collection of daily newspapers (Mirror and Guardian newspapers) in their latrines. Ahem, yes a lot of reading was done there and most people got up to date with the national news - it was the classic reading spot for most folks (now don't you dare deny it).  The most important use of the newspaper or as we used to call it then, "the gazette paper" was to clean up after you finished doing your business. Let me explain, after you moaned and groaned and made some very spectacular sounds and got "it" out of your body you needed "toilet paper" - Voila, here comes the classic gazette paper to the rescue!

One interesting fact about gazette paper during that period was that the ink used to print the newspaper usually left your fingers black and that meant if you wiped with gazette paper the obvious happened. Oh, I must add this because latrines were notorious for having roaches living in the area beneath the box that you sat on. That meant while your sat like a king on your throne the not-so-little creatures beneath were eyeing the source of their fresh deposits. Yes, yes and yes, you had to be on guard to dust off or get rid of those curious fellows as they constantly explored their terrain. A common practice was to empty a "peardrax bottle" of pitch oil (kerosene) in the hole and lit up some gazette paper - this usually did in most of the roaches and surely helped clean up the odor that the latrine could leave. I can't remember anyone burning down their latrine while doing this ... oh gosh I can't believe I just wrote that. My father-in-law reminded me that the County and Borough Councils used to send a truck to the rural districts to distribute a treated oil to pour in the latrines to help with the sanitation of the pits and control of the roaches. I must also mention that because of the children using the latrines the wooden seats were wet because the little ones did not have good control or to protect themselves from the roaches they stooped on the seat causing a spray leading to the seat getting wet at the front or sometimes at the back or both. Again here came gazette paper to the rescue as the seat was lined with paper for a comfortable and dry sit down.

So if you are laughing or if you are grossed out by the above just know that it was part of the life of a lot of West Indians "back in the day".  Do you remember any of this, if so leave a comment about your experiences don't be ashamed it was part of our 'culture'?


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sandiegolee said…
Well could you imagine a few siblins getting laxatives on Sunday morning, the common day for taking a purge. Then picture everyone making ah run to the latrine at the same time.