Just Watering the Grass…Nothing to See…

There is an episode of the Cosby show where Vanessa Huxtable blames her parents for being rich after being harassed at school for being a rich girl. It’s a funny episode because Clare and Cliff tell Vanessa that if anyone is rich, it’s them and not her. This episode recently flashed through my mind as I was in a government building in Nigeria looking for a toilet.

“Oh to be an American living in Nigeria!” I sometimes feel that my upbringing in the United States has left me disadvantaged living in Nigeria as an American. My expectations for basic things are exceptionally high which often leads to frustration and disappointment when I’m trying to get simple things done. But the lack of toilets, especially in a government building with hundreds of employees is downright disappointing (and disgusting). I had to ask 5 security officers before finding a toilet. It made me think, where do people go to the toilet?

I recently had the strangest conversation with my driver. The topic was public urination and the conversation started because I read an article on BBC.com that the city of San Francisco, in an effort to address the issue of public urination around night clubs and bars, is planning to use a special paint that redirects urine back onto the person. This, the city hopes, will stop public urination. The idea came from a city in Germany which has been using the paint for a few years to combat public urination around bars.

Nigeria has a significant problem with public urination and public defecation. Water and sanitation is a problem that is being addressed by numerous NGOs and other health related organizations. Most foreign nationals in Nigeria are surprised by the lack of facilities and the overwhelming number of people “relieving” themselves on the side of the road or along walled compounds. You often see signs that read, “No urination here.” And the most significant problem (to me) is that when people do “relieve” themselves, there is no desire to seek cover. People visiting Nigeria from all over the world, including parts of the world where public urination is common are surprised how out in the open it is in Nigeria. It truly catches you off guard.  Recently, Sheila and I were out walking through the neighborhood when a car pulled over and two men exited the car. At first, we didn’t think much about them. They were walking along chatting toward us. Eventually they stopped, began to unzip their trousers and allowed nature to do its course.  Now, before I go on, I have no problem with a man (or woman for that matter) seeking the cover of trees, walls or whatever to “make themselves comfortable.” But to stop on the edge of the sidewalk, remove your “junk” and let the water flow in front of my wife, then I have a problem.

According to WaterAid, an international NGO working to improve water and sanitation in Africa’s largest country, many areas throughout the country, don’t have access to proper sewer systems. The organization estimates that over 130 million people don’t have access to proper sewer systems. Just imagine, the entire Southern region of the U.S. without proper sanitation (many of my “Northern” friends already think that is the case). That is what the situation looks like here in Nigeria. Which explains why people relieve themselves on the side of the road. But you never get comfortable watching men and women “conduct their business” on the side of the road and in broad daylight. Again, I am not trying to judge but it’s difficult removing these American lenses that I see the world through…its just who I am…

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