Things the US can learn from Malawi, an ongoing series: Separate rooms for toilets

In the US, plumbing practicalities and limited space mean that we use our “bathroom” principally for eliminating waste; bathing is just a secondary use. Smarter folks than me have observed that, constraints aside, this is a pretty terrible arrangement: we intentionally go to the dirtiest room in the house the clean ourselves. God help you if you need to use the toilet before showering, the smell can be devastating.

A very different system obtains in rural Malawi. The toilet and the bath are generally different structures, separated by a fairly decent distance. Part of this is driven by necessity – pit toilets are disgusting – but part probably comes from the opportunity to rearrange two spaces that are outside the house anyway. The more urban the site, the less true this is – in places with running the water the two are often close together, or even combined in the standard Western style. Even in cities, though, at least having separate rooms is reasonably common.

Although I confess some benefits to the US arrangement – having one sink for both bathroom and toilet is nice, as is the shared storage – if I ever have the ability to design a house I’ll shoot for a toilet room that is separate from the bathing one.

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