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Washington, D.C.: nada. “The health sector of USAID does not see investment in sanitation as a public health investment,” explains a World Bank employee. “That’s a huge problem.” Donor groups are more likely to focus on quick and easy fixes to development problemssuch as giving away cell phonesthan on deeper complexities like functioning sewer systems and access to clean public toilets. But this is not a whiny book. Yes, there are the requisite complaints about inadequate media attention and misplaced aid, but George’s most effective strategy is competent reportage from a range of international venues. George covered some impressive ground and talked to a lot of unsung heroes to write this book. Much of her appeal comes from the chatty travelogue documenting her quirky exploratory experience. It’s an effective journalistic tactic: Draw the reader in with personal anecdotes that skew toward the absurd, then hit them with the straight dope. Thus in India we meet the agricultural scientist Kamal Kar, who meets George and announces, “You can’t be a doctor and be scared of blood, and you can’t work in sanitation and be scared of shit” George then details Kar’s efforts to institute a sanitation methodology called Although CLTS has so far had only limited success, one thing has become universally clear, and it keeps Kar going. As George writes, “once you get a toilet, you can’t tolerate a dirty environment anymore” Although Kar is a sanitation pioneer, George places him in the larger context of sanitation reformers in India, including Gandhi, who defied the tradition of “untouchables” cleaning latrines to insist that every person should take care of his own shit. Another captivating chapter centers on sanitation in China, where Communist authorities have lent supreme political importance to excrement. The result is that “15.4 million rural households in China are connecting their toilets to a biogas digester, switching on their stoves a few hours later, and cooking with the proceeds.” George \(who is led around enthralled: “… biogas deserves a bigger POETRY I JACK BRANNON HER VOICE The flu almost did me in the winter I was ten, then followed hard on my heels, a raging case of Germanic measles. Both maladies presented with high fever, shaking chills, and one miserable sick little boy. Mother cooked medicinal foods, changed copious dirty linens, but most important of all by far were the countless hours she read to me. Through overheated afternoons we solved most of the Hardy Boys mysteries and in the nights when I came shaking out of fever dreams, their endless terrible falling, catching me was the sound of her voice speaking brightly as “Freddy the Pig:’ She read me through that ill season, I got well and moved on to days when my mother and I related not at all, when distance grew and grew between us until a time came I often thought of her as cold, caring about all things wrong, but uncaring, never, in the end, since sometimes still on most frightful nights I hear her voice disguised but clear as Joe or Frank or Freddy again. Jack Brannon is founder and director of the Poetry at Round Top festival and the author of Vigil, which was a finalist for the Violet Crown Book Award. He lives in Austin. place in our future, because of how it has may very well have come from advice so far transformed the present” doled out in a British trade publication From a biosolids treatment plant in called Toilet Talk. “Sometimes;’ the ediAlexandria, Virginia, to a convention of tors explain, “grassroots activism involves robotic-toilet experts in Tokyo to a New a great deal of scolding and finger pointYork City sewer clogged with grease, ing … [but] this kind of stuff has limited George takes us to places we’d assuredly utility. People in power are more likely never go on our own. More important, to pull back inside their bureaucratic she effectively makes the case thatall shells like bumped turtles, the minute the poop jokes ever told notwithstand you start pelting them with awfuls and ingher topic is deadly serious and, shamefulls.” despite its common-denominator status, Rather than lecture, George charms, woefully underappreciated. and in doing so she raises awareness that, A final compliment for The Big one hopes, will translate into action in Necessity: Unlike many writers who cover “the toiletless world.” environmental disasters and disasters-in -waiting, George not only has a sense of Contributing writer James E. McWilliams humor, she refuses to wag her finger and is the author, most recently, of American yell “shame!” Her hand-holding approach Pests. JANUARY 9, 2009 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13