Fri, 17 Jun 2011 General News

To Pee Or Not To Pee

By Meri Nana-Ama Danquah - Daily Graphic

To pee or not to pee, that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler to hold in one’s urge, and suffer the pains and discomfort of a full bladder or to choose a public place in which to purge, thus displaying one’s genitalia for all to see.

It would be easy enough for me to rant and rave about the proclivity that so many Ghanaians have to peeing in the open .

After all, it’s no big secret – or small secret, depending upon whom you happen to spy – that men in Ghana (not, I might note, simply Ghanaian men) are none too shy about unzipping their trousers or lifting up one leg of their shorts, pulling out their phallus and then shooting a straight stream of urine into the nearest gutter or patch of grass.

You see it all the time: taxi drivers standing beside their hastily (and often, unsafely) parked cars, as well as nicely suited men next to their gleaming VW Golfs and BMWs, with their back to the road, and their hands on their member, shaking off the last wayward drops.

Women do it too, though the majority of them at least try not to be as conspicuous as their male counterparts. That is to say, they hide.

Presumably for the sake of preserving the appearance of being ladylike, they forego the curbside and find a secluded area deep in the woods or behind a building. Sometimes – since the task of simultaneously hiking up those long, intricately-sewn skirts, squatting and negotiating the partial removal of panties can be arduous – they’ll even take along a girlfriend or two to stand guard, and shield them from view, lest anyone catch a glimpse of them in such a compromising position.

Practice, however, does lead one to perfection. So adept have a lot of market-women become that they can be pissing into a tin cup while, at the same time, making a sales transaction.

In some societies, such acts would be considered indecent exposure, and perpetrators would be subject to arrest. Here, these acts are just par for the course.

Our beaches, gutters, neatly landscaped lawns, they’ve all become public toilets, places where people feel free to pee. Walls and containers bearing the message, “Do not urinate here,” are as common as aphorisms on the back of trotros.

This business of peeing in public has become a real problem for our society.

And, as I wrote earlier, it would be easy enough for me to rant and rave about it...had I not found myself once or twice (alright, alright, maybe it’s more like half a dozen times) in the awkward position of having to decide whether to toss discretion, among other things, to the wind or deal with the consequences of holding my water for far too long.

During these instances, it occurred to me that the real problem is not merely one of people whizzing at random in unacceptable locations but, also, one of people not having access to sanitary, properly functioning facilities.

There’s nothing worse than walking into a dirty loo, one that still contains the remains of its last ten users. But more often than not, that is the situation with which you’re faced when you leave the comfort and convenience of your own home.

As a result, the idea of going outside to commune with nature, as is said in more genteel circles, doesn’t seem quite as unappealing.

What I can’t understand is why lavs cannot be kept clean? Bars and restaurants are a prime example. It doesn’t take much foresight to know that if you’re in the business of serving people beverages, those people will eventually need to use the bathroom. How difficult, then, is it to assign a worker the duty of making sure that bathroom isn’t dirty?

When you think about it, there should be a law against having filthy lavs in places where food is being prepared; and the owners who violate it should be heavily fined. If such a law already exists on the books, then it should, as a service to the citizens of Ghana, be enforced more ardently and regularly because the health risks that are being posed to us are quite serious.

On occasion, after eating in a restaurant which, by all appearances (and menu prices) is supposed to be top-rate, I’ve gone to use their bathroom and discovered it to be smelly and disgusting, with unflushed toilets and paper towels strewn all over a wet floor soiled with the dirt that had been trudged in throughout the day.

Those experiences always left me wondering, if so little regard was being given to the loo, what kind of attention was being paid to the kitchen? Because after all is said and done, it is – is it not – the same employees cooking the food who are also using the loo? Lately, I’ve gotten into the habit of inspecting the facilities first, before having a seat and placing my order.

I then decide, depending on what I find, if I will stay or leave and look for another place where the word “typhoid” doesn’t dominate my thoughts as I chew my food which is not to say that there are no health hazards attached to relieving oneself outside, without benefit of soap and water with which to wash one’s hands. The whole either/or of it all is just off-putting.

To be fair, I know that over the years numerous effort have been made to discourage people from taking leaks in places other than proper lavatories. In addition to the “Do not urinate here,” messages – which are usually written by private citizens in an attempt to protect their property – there have also been televised adverts.

Yet they tend to be more psychological in tone, aimed at making known the lack of respectability and propriety that is displayed when one pees in public.

How effective can these campaigns actually be in the absence of any other alternatives for those who, simply put, gotta go? Sure, there’ll always be those among us who will still choose to pull over and do their business on the side of the road.

But wouldn’t it be wise to also wage a campaign for more public bathrooms, cleaner facilities, ones that are free from pathogens and filth, so that the rest of us who would rather not, can avoid being put in the position of having to? Until that happens, I’ve assembled a list of all the places where I go when I’m out and about in Accra or Kumasi or Akosombo or Cape Coast, just about any place I frequent. Which, I suppose, is a solution of sorts. Or?

What are your thoughts on the subject?

Writer's email: [email protected]