As the world marks Toilet Day today November 19th, my heart goes out to the over 2.5 billion people in the world who do not have access to proper sanitation.
But then I remember my dear country Nigeria and where we are in the indices of these figures given. I remember vividly how the toilet in my primary school looked like; it was a pit hole at the back of the school compound with some blocks raised by just a few feet to cover you from shame. It did not have a door and thus no privacy. You were always haunted by the fact that someone or something could just ‘catch’ you in there so you would hurriedly do it and most times miss the hole for fear of been bumped into by someone else. The fear of being bumped into or caught by something (because of the location of the toilet) were not the only demons that we had to deal with. The smell and the vapour that you felt as you lowered your behind into the pit was even a greater demon.
And so we continued with these horrors until we got to the secondary school. From the look of things, there was a good plan from the beginning because these toilets were attached to the buildings ( so at least the demons to fear were less) but…. all of them were under lock and key for lack of running water and other issues. We had to result to the pit again and as usual it was metres away from the school building and the hostel building that accommodated us. Now the demons were even bigger (with the myths of Bush Baby and all the other gory stories that existed). Because we were older and wiser and understood the implications of being infected by the ‘hole’, we improvised and began to do it in cellophane bags and throw it over the fence (short put).
This practise persisted and stills persists (I dare to say) and has become normal. Anytime I think about it, I wonder how we made it, yes we did but not without taking along with us some of these habits that has followed us to our adult age, and still continues. And then there is the stories of those who do not have toilets at all and surprisingly, the other percentage who have never seen one before hmm…. (Selah) The issues of water on the other hand presents its own unique challenges.
At home well, some of us had fairly better conditions but of course the better part of our growing age was spent in school. What mummy taught me to do when in the toilet was at constant struggle with the realities I was faced with when in school. Any time you went out to town, market or church or anywhere there was a ‘hole’ you wouldn’t dare go close to because the stench will throw you back from metres away and if you were so pressed (it’s embarrassing but I am sure most of us can relate), you would just do it by the corner just beside someone else’s (you know what I mean). This was our reality, our culture, our identity, hence, our toilet culture.
My article today is focused on this Culture. Until a new toilet culture is introduced, this is what an average Nigerian on the street believes about a toilet. It is filthy, stinky, smelly, unusable and treats it as such. This belief has stuck with us overtime and is being perpetuated from one generation to the next. Who will stop this trend? Who will tell us otherwise? Are bad, messy and non-functional toilets our identity?
Elsie Doolumun Ozika
(Executive Director, Toilet Kulture Initiative)