Monday, December 14, 2009

Contempt of Toilet in Ghana



Some subjects cannot be broached without profuse apologies. As we say in Ghana Taflatse seven times for my Sakalogue on something so smelly.

I was driving on the motorway one morning when a woman declared on Joy FM in impeccable fante inter-laced with the queen's English, "yede contempt atu tiefi nudu" to wit she has placed contempt on toilet. I received half a dozen calls from friends in the next couple of minutes asking if I was listening to Joy FM. Truth be told, the government and the people of Ghana have been treating this important byproduct of the digestive system with great contempt . We understand that to keep the body alive we need to expel the stuff (it will come out any way if you refuse to), and when out, storage is very important if we want to avoid an over-charitable distribution of disease causing parasites in our society. However, symptomatic of our failure in resolving our problem as a nation, we have done a bad job of collecting and storing away those lumps from the stomach.

Huge deposits of the substance have been scattered in all manner of places that have nothing to do with the stuff. The gods of the sea have not signed a toilet pact with Ogyakromians but the beaches are popular with people seeking quick stomach downloads. Open gutters, rivers, forest reserves, backyards ('efitsire') are popular with many stomach surfers in Ogyakrom. The men, women and children who desecrate the beautiful beaches are not savages- simply put, there are no decent toilets at their places of abode. Where available, they're either over-used or not worth the name, or both. District and metropolitan assemblies have failed to enforce their own laws that make it mandatory for landlords to provide toilets in their houses. In certain parts of the capital, Accra, many landlords converted their pan-latrine toilets into extra rooms and asked the tenants to use public places of convenience. To live successfully in one of these houses, you must have total control of your bowels under the most turbulent stomach conditions. If you don't, your opprobrium is beyond salvage. Apart from having to hold it in until you get to the public toilet that can be any distance away from your house, you have to contend with a long queue of surfers, some holding soap dishes half filled with enema in one hand and enema syringe ("bentua") in the other, all waiting their turn to download. Unfortunately for you, there are no emergency procedures to take care of your circumstances. Under such circumstances, your best bet is to look for any place more convenient than this place of convenience, this could be anywhere- the beach, the bush, behind that house, a carrier bag in your bedroom if you live alone- alas, you've joined the savages.

Why do we call these public toilets places of convenience? You can actually walk in with your father-in-law-in-waiting and finish negotiating the bride price for your fiancée, whiles at it. The stench emanating from the place can have devastating consequences on the nerves that control smell if exposure is not minimized. In fact, a couple of these toilets imploded under its own methane (or whatever gas it is) a decade or so ago. Some chaps in Kumasi attempted to improve these toilets by inventing the KVIP- Kumasi Ventilated Improved Pit Latrine. I never understood why these chaps invented the KVIP at a time we had been used to WCs for decades. I was even more baffled by the way politicians loved to inaugurate these toilets. If you have ever used the so called improved pit latrine you realize it is no technology at all. However, after an encounter with a mobile toilet in the middle of London, I revised my notes on the technology.

Whiles shopping on the high streets in London in February 1998, I felt a strong call of nature. Incidentally it was on that trip that I adopted the name Ogyakromian. Luckily I located a mobile toilet right there in the middle of everywhere. As soon as the door moved to close position and Ogyakromian prepared to dialogue with nature, I saw a note on the closed door advising users of the system that the door is programmed to open AUTOMATICALLY after 15 minutes. What? "What if the system mistimed my session and flings open after 2 minutes?" "I wasn't wearing a watch, what if I misjudge 15 minutes?" As these thoughts flushed through my mind, I decided that was it, I wasn't going expose myself to an opprobrium of this magnitude, I was out of the place before you could cross the last 't' in the word toilet. I don't know who put an upper limit of 15 minutes on a session with nature, but with the KVIP system, the owners of the toilet didn't have to worry about such issues, you will only stay in that room if you have to be there, the stench will kick you out, no electronics required.

Sometimes I do wonder why people in certain areas in Accra queue to vote for politicians who cannot even guarantee them a decent place to exercise one of the most private rights of a citizen. The approach to solving this problem has always been half-hearted. For instance, in the heat of Rawlings' revolution, he is reported to have said that people with two WCs in their homes must transfer one to the people of Nima. Brilliant Solution: It is more difficult to bring dignity to the millions who need it by providing them with toilets, why not strip dignity off the few who have it by taking toilets away from them to create equality at the baseline. Other solutions have been capitalist in nature. Long before the Internet was invented, toilet hotspots were
created in
densely populated areas to serve the needs of the populace. This approach has served politicians in more ways than one. Some of these toilets are out sourced to party faithful who have been promised jobs. This is so important that daggers are drawn when governments are changed without change in the management of the toilets. It is one of such incidents that prompted the woman to call for "contempt on the toilet". Secondly, with the pressure for politicians to show evidence of development, why not keep building these public KVIPs? A toilet here, a toilet there, and your votes are banked! If every home has its own toilet, what will the politician do for development? Roads? That is hellishly expensive.

Dr. Charles Wereko Brobbey and his Ghana at 50 attempted to solve some of our toilet worries. Though good intentioned, the celebration ended with no visible toilets on our highways, what a shame. Even if it had been successful, his project will not solve the real problem with our toilet or lack of it. Our people really understand the importance of toilets in the affairs of men but we simply have failed to address the matters arising. In the Anlo tribe for example, a man on the way to visit the toilet is exempted from greeting anyone along the way. Of course, with the greetings are exchanged, asking after every object in the house in turn, if you insist on greeting, there shall be a performance. So we recognize the fact that toilets must be accessible without impedance, not even cultural impedance is good enough. So why have we for many years watched queues buildup at these toilet hotspots that have become business ventures and have refused to insist on a simple rule- every house and its own toilet(s)?

Let's face it; in the court of the toilet judge, we're in Contempt!

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