I felt the twitch in my stomach and my lower abdomen swelling, prepping for a burst. I had been glued to my laptop, punching the keys to churn out a report that was almost past due. When my resilience began to waver in increasing intensity, I rushed out of my cubicled space, my steps quickened by escape from timed bomb seconds away from explosion. On my way, I waved away greetings of colleagues. My destination was to regain life. I shoved open the door, drawing my zippers in the heat. Then with a deep breath, I came close to embracing the urinal mounted on the wall. As I felt the drain of strain and weightlessness giving me back life, I noticed that I was not alone. A colleague was leaning to my right, almost done, drawing up his zipper. I didn’t say a word during those busiest seconds, somewhat recalling a funny myth that when you are busy in the restroom, don’t say a word lest the evil spirits come around. I chuckled to myself with the memory. My colleague spoke up. “O boy, the way you were rushing in, I thought someone was pursuing you.” I didn’t say a word, but smiled. Wasn’t I being pursued? As I pressed the liquid soap container and then the faucet, with my hands under the outpour, I noticed he just walked away, without washing his hands. A memory came alive: “You shook hands with that guy earlier in the day.”
The truth is I have often noticed such situation many times, where people use the restroom and then walk away as though they just came out of the bathroom, done with having their bath. I have seen it happen at various facilities, including my very exquisite office environment where the water flows ceaselessly. So, it’s not about water being unavailable. What then is it about? Certainly it has something to do with knowledge, behaviour and attitude. People just don’t care. I don’t know what happens in the ladies’ but I just know the restroom is the most central place in everyone’s life. Or, it should be, on a juxtaposed position with the kitchen. I still remember my basic Health Education class during my primary school, where we were taught to wash our hands so often that I was feeling incessantly in need of some form of cleansing. I have a friend who was probably taught same and who carries it on so fanatically to this day that she washes her hand at every touch until, I think, her hands tend to assume some igneous features.
One may wonder if it is all about washing the hands. Nay. Not all. It’s about toilet etiquette. It’s about the non-availability of toilet facilities in many houses built in Nigeria. It’s about the lip service paid to environment and public health in Nigeria. It’s about not caring about ourselves enough. Let me tell you a story. Years ago, a friend invited me over to his village somewhere in Eastern Nigeria. I was to spend about four days. I travelled the four hours to his home town from Calabar. The first day went pretty well and there was no incident, somewhat my body didn’t relax to the new environment easily. On the second day, after tasting the various local delicacies, I asked to be shown the restroom. He led me along a footpath meandering through low green vegetation until we were some distance from the house. Then, he began to explain, spreading his hands to show me the vast spaces opened for my use. As the reality sunk in, I laughed at myself. I was numb for a while, my mind racing back to the lovely house they called country home, being without a toilet. When I came around, I made a funny joke to ease my tension. “With the wind blowing, one can feel natural warmth as one squats.” I’m sure you want to know what happened thereafter. Nothing happened.
On November 19 each year, the United Nations marks a special day in the life of the individual. It’s called World Toilet Day (learn more here). I’m sure you are wondering what will the United Nations not mark. The UN arm that anchors the events of this special day is the World Toilet Organisation. You can read about them on the link above. As I reflect on the day, I am thinking about the poor water and sanitary situation in the country, the non-availability of public toilets and government’s corrupt interest in curative rather than preventive health care. According to the United Nations data for 2012, 34 million Nigerians still defecate in the open. This is an abysmal statistic and we must each dedicate our energies to reducing this unwholesome situation. Sanitation and toilet etiquette is at the centre of human wellbeing and it goes beyond the unserious monthly sanitation of cutting grass around our homes. It is about our knowledge, attitudes and behaviour. For a start, why not sign up (here) as a member of World Toilet Organisation and begin the process of learning something healthy!