by Isaac Essel

November 18, 2017


TALKING DRUM: In search of a clean public toilet in Ghana! (Part I)

Caution: The content of this article could be nauseating to the reader!

Filth in Darkness 

The sun seems breathing fire. From where it hangs in the sky to where the descendants of Adam tread on earth, one wonders why its heat is so severe. Derrick Fosu, a 27 year old teacher, is seen with his forehead dotted with beads of sweat. He trudges out of a public place of convenience here at New Town, a suburb of Sunyani in the Brong Ahafo region.

The toilet stands close to the Methodist Junior High School. Observing it from afar, it promises to have had a good architectural look of its frontal view. A dwarfish wall of pillars and mesh, in shambles, stand on the edges of both the male and female entrances of the toilet. The wall protrudes to form a square-like shape to enclose the forecourt. Upon entering the forecourt, a wooden structure (on the left) which has never ‘tasted’ paint sits like a bull frog in a swamp. In the tattered and tilted kiosk which could perfectly be described as a hen coop sits the toilet’s attendant, an old man. He munches some groundnuts.

“I bought my paper of which one cost 20 pesewas. Its size is a little bigger than a class one pupil’s A1 exercise book. Walking down the defaced concrete ‘red carpet’ pavement to enter the toilet, one is greeted by a very pungent smell like that of an expired egg,” Derrick says.

He says that he started wearing glasses (lens) far back in 2002, then a Junior High School student. “But even with my glasses on, I get lost into an impenetrable darkness whenever I enter this toilet.”

Boakyewaa Juliet, a 37 year old trader, will not pass by upon seeing me interview Derrick. She says when one enters the facility in question, the first half of a minute, one stands still like Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s statue at the Independence Square (in Accra) due to the darkness in it.

Derrick says that on his first day of patronizing the facility, he had to draw back into the day’s light to switch on a ‘flashlight application’ he had on his phone. “This was just about 30 seconds after entering. Slowly lifting one leg after the other, I finally found what my eyes told me was a clean seat to squat on.

“Minutes later I realized that my feet sat in a pool of maggots. The maggots were as innumerable as one couldn’t imagine such that if you threw a grain of sand onto them, it would not find a way to fall onto the cemented floor,” he told me.

Derrick and Juliet’s concerns represent the sentiments shared by both the young and elderly who are the patrons of these public toilets. Boakyewaa tells me that aside the toilet, the only option for easing oneself is the ‘wrap and throw’ method. “You do it in a polythene bag and throw it away. But I feel guilty doing that so this toilet is my last resort.”

The state of others

At Penkwasi- another suburb of Sunyani- the filth that adorns public toilets is not any different. Few meters away from the Highstreet JHS sits two toilets. By just filing pass one of them (KVIP), one stands the chance of being heartlessly ‘perfumed’ without paying a pesewa. This particular toilet has lately seen a little improvement. Visiting it this time, it has new aluminum roofing and seemingly whitewashed.

Martha Adjei who just got out of the toilet shared the ordeal patrons of the toilet go through. “One has to squint off the pots of urine and battle houseflies,” she said.

Upon entering the toilet, pockets of urine that stand in holes in front of the squatting-seats send one squinting. At New Dormaa, Zongo, Area II, and Area III among many other suburbs of Sunyani, the state of our public toilets is the same.

AMA’s tomb in the Capital City 

I did not limit my search for a clean public toilet only to Sunyani. In the heart of Ghana’s capital city, Accra, is a toilet that I refer to as a tomb. It is situated some few meters from Maame Dorkono’s Obra Spot. The Accra Metropolitan Assembly’s (AMA) toilet at the 37-Labadi Lorry Station is given a good painting on its outer look. It has both urinal and toilet in one hall. I paid 20 pesewas to urinate.

In the toilet, one of three ceiling fans meticulously rotates to drive away the unbearable breeze. On the doors of the toilet’s cubicles is the inscription; “Please do not stand on the pot. Sit on it.” Such give the impression that the AMA, by the standard of this particular toilet, is poised to uplift the face of public toilets. However, this one, like the others, is bedeviled with uncleanliness.

The water closet and urine sink are turning brownish in colour. The former is in such a bad state that users of the facility hide in squatting on it instead of sitting; which the toilet attendants seriously abhor. The flashing system of the WC has as well collapsed. One has to fetch water from a tank placed outside the facility when flashing. The stench here, probably because of the chemical used in cleaning the toilet, is disgusting. “Its condition, if not for the pressing need to attend to nature’s call, I will never enter,” a user told me.

On my tour of public toilets, I have come to one of the sanity-crippled toilets here at Labadi, a suburb of Accra. This toilet sits opposite to the Omanye Art Gallery, on the Labadi Beach road. I have bought my paper of which one cost 20 pesewas. Looking at the filthy nature of the water closet, most users buy two papers costing them 40 pesewas.

Adjetey, a user tells me, “We divide one of the papers into two so as to spread them on the edges (mouth) of the pot. I once vomited upon entering the toilet because of the nauseating smell.” He says that in the rainy season, maggots climb up to the mouth of the pots and it is very worrying.

At La Maami, close to the Fraga Oil at the lorry station, another toilet announces its presence by its stench. In front of this toilet, food vendors compete for space as they mount their stands to sell to their prospective consumers.

NOTE: This article was first published in 2014 titled ‘Toilets of shame.’ The cost of one using a public toilet, today, might be higher compared to when writing this piece.

By Solomon Mensah|3FM|3news.com|Ghana

The writer is a broadcast journalist with 3FM/TV3. Views expressed here solely remain his and do not reflect his organisation’s editorial policy.

Email: nehusthan4@yahoo.com

Twitter: @Aniwaba

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