Let me tell you about the worst day of my life.
October 15th is Global Handwashing Day. A day for schools and health organisations to emphasize the importance of staying germ free by washing your hands. This year, it fell on a Saturday, and schools in Nigeria made the students and teachers come that day for events.
On a weekend.
Don’t we treat teachers poorly enough already?
I think less than half of Nigerians have running water at home and a significant amount don’t have proper toilets. World Handwashing Day is a nice initiative to promote, but sometimes these things feel like a knee-jerk reaction to copy international events.
What next? Nigeria will get on the bandwagon for Take Your Child to Work day. As if we really need to give people more excuses to bring their children to work and breast-feed them in local government offices.
A few weeks after World Handwashing Day, I had a meeting at a school.
The day before the meeting day was very busy. I was running a lot of errands and I had to eat on the go twice. My schedule was a mess. Normally, I would have buffered a day like that with a day of rest to allow my body readjust but I felt fine.
I woke up on the meeting day, skipped breakfast and took my time in the morning making sure my stomach was alright. It felt great, so I headed out.
Halfway to the meeting, my stomach started to rumble, and I couldn’t go back home because I had already told them I was on my way.
I got to the school without incident but I didn’t want to waddle into the office, ask them for their private toilet and run back out to it. So I walk around the building looking for the common toilet. I find a door with ‘Ladies’ written on it in pink chalk. Next to it is an unmarked door.
I kick the unmarked door open and I’m halfway across the room before I notice the three women inside.
There is a mattress on one side of the room with a mat next to it. One woman is sleeping on the mattress, another is sitting on the mat sewing and the last one is on the other side of the room fetching water into a bucket. The three women are wearing matching red overalls.
“Umm… is this the men’s toilet?”
Why am I asking? I can clearly see that it is the men’s toilet. There are open stalls along the back wall and the woman who is getting water is using one of the sinks.
The cleaning people either live in the men’s toilet or spend their work hours sleeping there.
But that doesn’t matter to me now.
The woman on the mattress looks up and starts yelling at me, “Is that how you just walk in here? You don’t knock! You can’t greet?”
I am stunned, I apologise. She half nods and goes back to her nap. The other two women glance at me and return to their activities.
The mattress/mat combination is blocking entry into the last three stalls. That leaves two stalls that I can get into without stepping over the mattress, but the woman using the bucket is in front of the first stall and none of the stalls have doors so whichever one I pick I will be dropping a deuce in front of an audience.
I stand there for a full minute, hopping from one foot to the other, weighing options I don’t have.
I choose death.
I run out of the men’s toilet and go to the office. My pride is all gone now so it is easier to swallow.
“Good afternoon, yes it’s me. I’m here but I can’t meet now. I need a few minutes. Where is your toilet?”
The secretary gives me the keys to management’s toilet with directions on how to get there. I find the toilet easily and settle in.
I’m sitting there, sweating, laughing at myself and thinking about how embarrassing this story is. I am amused by the fact that there is a bucket of water under the sink which probably means there is no running water, or soap.
So much for hand washing day, huh? *nudge, nudge*
I’m too busy decompressing that I don’t realise there is no toilet paper until I’m done.
Now, I am pacing up and down the toilet with my trousers and underwear down around my ankles. I am convinced that the toilet roll must be somewhere obvious that I haven’t checked. On top of the toilet, in a fancy invisible roller case attached to the wall, on the window sill, it is a small toilet and I quickly run out of places to look. There is no toilet paper here.
I’m juggling options again. The secretary should have noticed by now that I have been gone with her keys for a long time.
Option 1: Go through my phone and find people I know in the area that can come here in the middle of a work day with a roll of toilet paper. Call one of them in for the rescue.
Option 2: Empty the contents of my pockets into a pile on the floor and search for anything useful. I have the keys, some pocket lint, an invitation letter to a conference, a handkerchief, and my wallet containing business cards, id cards, and some money.
Outside the back window is a shop that sells snacks, drinks, and provisions.