In a radio interview with Abeiku Santana in either 2005 or 2006 (I remember listening to it online whilst studying in Nottingham) about water shortage on the campus of University of Ghana, a female student of the Volta hall complained about how it was frustrating it was when “one needed to go to the loo to poo!” Today as we celebrate World’s Toilet Day, I thank God for the privilege of having a place to download such effluent. Many still don’t have that access.
I grew up in Kotobabi, a suburb of Accra, where I was born and lived for close to 25 years. We grew up in a three-room rented apartment, in a compound house. Three rooms, because there was the main bedroom, which was used by my parents and the younger kids, who slept on mats on the floor; the second room, which was a combined sitting room with a bed on one side (my eldest brother used this, and which served as a bedroom during the night, when the chairs and tables were packed at one side to make room for mats and mattresses to be put on the floor for sleeping on. The third room was a kitchen space, but it was used to keep other stuff like water drums, and served as the storeroom as well. And don’t have the image of a kitchen with fridge, cabinets, electrical cooker, et cetera. Just think kitchen space! Nine other families lived in the compound house and we all shared the same utilities – bathhouse, toilets, water pipe.
For some years, the toilet in this compound house, the pan latrine type, was not functional. Eish, those were the days when the latrine man was the worse person to cross at dawn. A wrong word when you met him around 3am or 4am with the symbol of his trade on the top of his head, and you could have a sprinkling of his load administered by the short broom he always had in his hand, in the manner in which holy water is sprinkled during mass. When nature called, we had to walk to either Kotobabi down or Pig Farm to use the public places of convenience, a very inconveniencing journey especially when the package awaiting download also had the attribute of impatience. In such a situation, the steps one took were measured. A false move, and catastrophe ensued. Observing a person going through such an experience, you would always get the feeling of watching a moving car with ignition problems: a rushing, a stop or pause, a try at igniting the vehicle and the process repeated. A queue, usually long, at the destination doesn’t help matters.
In my article, Fearful Things in Sikaman Part 1, I wrote:
It is a fearful thing to be in thick Accra traffic and to have an urgent call from Nature. The first confusion is how to manage the heat in the car and the heat in the alimentary canal simultaneously. Second challenge is how to control the pedals without disturbing the delicate equilibrium achieved as the mind goes into analytical, scanning and zooming mode: where to go?
The options aren’t a lot. According to my friend Kafui Dey, you could park the car, leave the hazard lights on, walk quickly to a nearby hotel, smile at the receptionist, find the nearest washroom, sweet relief. Get back to your car, pay the towing charges and drive back. The best solution, actually; just that it is assumed that you can reach the hotel safely, one will surely have to walk with circumspection and calculated steps.
Ebo Beecham believes the nearest bush calleth, but bush in Vanderpuje’s Accra? Scarce and what if you are in central Accra? Another friend suggest prayer, but here too, you can only do silent prayer. Don’t start blowing away in tongues, you need all the control to concentrate!
According to the United Nations, more than 2.6 billion people live without access to proper sanitation facilities. , In 2001, the World Toilet Organization (WTO) declared 19th November World Toilet Day (WTD). It is now celebrated in over 19 countries with over 51 events being hosted by various water and sanitation advocates in 2010.
The purpose of the WTD is “to raise global awareness of the struggle 2.6 billion face every day without access to proper, clean sanitation. WTD also brings to the forefront the health, emotional and psychological consequences the poor endure as a result of inadequate sanitation.”
In Ghana, statistics from the Accra Metropolitan Assembly estimate that seventy percent of people living in Accra, the capital city of Ghana, do not have access to a toilet facility. The situation could be worse outside the capital. Travel on any of major highways, say from Accra to Kumasi, and you are always in hot waters if nature calls. Where to do it is always a headache, which dilemma invariably exacerbates the stress!
Thinking back to 20 years ago and seeing how we still struggle with the provision of this basic amenity, one wonders, in Ghana speak, whether “we came or went”. The situation hasn’t changed much, with public toilets even assuming the status of being targets of forced takeover by political foot soldiers.
Again referring to Fearful Things in Sikaman:
During the Ghana @50, one of the main plans was to construct washrooms and rest stops along the major highways. As happens many times in Sikaman, the talk is sweet but the execution is sour at best or usually nil. We are still expecting those.
Happy Toilet Day, and as you squat for either aquatic abortion or high-speed downloading, do say a prayer of thanks that you have the facilities to perform these functions and spare a thought for the 2.6 billion around the world who are still searching for that privilege.
Acheampong, Elvis Akwasi, The Import of World’s Toilet Day to the Ordinary Ghanaian, http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=197828, Accessed 19.11.11>
World Toilet Organization, http://www.worldtoilet.org/wto/, Accessed 19.11.11
Damoah, Nana Awere, Fearful Things in Sikaman Part 1 < https://nanaaweredamoah.wordpress.com/2011/06/19/fearful-things-in-sikaman-part-1/, Accessed 19.11.11>