Returning to live in Nigeria after nearly a decade away, the influence of another culture makes me observe life through a different set of lenses. Like a black face in a sea of white faces, our national pastime immediately stood out to me. In the past, this hobby did not elicit a raised eyebrow from me since it blends seamlessly with the landscape.
On the streets, behind magnificent edifices, under bridges, at the corner of dream castles, and even in front of crude, hand-painted signs that expressly forbid it, men and women, boys and girls, and goats and dogs all rollick in this pastime. I dare say that you or someone you know has been involved in it.
Being a showy people, we engage in this activity openly, without shame, and no thought of decorum. Have you guessed what it is? No, it is not football; it is urinating in public!
Urine pours like libation all across the land and there is no hallowed ground. Any gutter, wall, bush, or piece of land will do. Smart-looking men disembark tinted-glass Lexus jeeps mid-street to relieve themselves beside school-aged boys turned vendors. Women, though in the minority, refuse to be outdone. Whether standing astride, or crouching low with bunched-up skirts, they contribute their quota to this swelling, smelling river that threatens to overflow its banks.
Are people in such dire need that they cannot wait until they get to a toilet? Does a dearth of facilities fuel this activity?
I observed a security guard having a go on a neighbour’s fence, so I made enquiries about the gatehouse in front of the estate where he worked. There was a toilet and yes, there was running water.
Pray tell, what should I conclude? That old habits die-hard? That the satisfaction derived from relieving oneself in the open is out of proportion to that obtained in the confines of a cubicle? That borderline exhibitionism is pervasive? That, that … the, Do Not Urinate Here By Order-sign, which stands at attention in front of the fence, is an open invitation to do so?
All this has given me a new perspective on handshaking. Fortunately or maybe unfortunately, hugs are more commonplace in my setting. Friends, however, remind me that worse things have not yet killed a man.
Sometime ago, my family and I were caught in traffic occasioned by the Lagos Carnival, for several hours. We missed the warnings about roadblocks thanks to our habit of predominantly watching foreign TV channels. Anyway, we killed time by enjoying a hot but decent view from a bridge on Lagos Island. The heat from the sun was momentarily diverted to my brain when my son asked to use the toilet. I calmly explained that there were no nearby facilities all the while crossing my fingers.
After trying to contain his distress for a few moments, he approached me again and again and again. With no alternative in sight, I got off my high horse and encouraged him to just do it on the kerb by the bridge. Reminding me of my stand, he vehemently protested. Nature won the battle eventually, and I escorted him to a less conspicuous corner while eating my humble pie.
Photo credit: alvez / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA
Original image URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alvez/4697340832/
Photo credit: Darren Taylor [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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Photo credit: shawnleishman / Foter.com / CC BY-SA
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