The Nairobi Toilet Crisis

I have finally figured why Nairobians are constantly in a rush in the evening. You have seen how people walk so fast down Moi Avenue, near Galitos, as they cross the road to the Gor Mahia Square-Tom Mboya Statue and disappear to their various Matatu stages. Contrary to the popular assumption that they are trying to beat traffic, guys are actually rushing home to download the morning breakfast and lunch.

This is a serious problem. Only five-stars in Nairobi have tolerable toilets that you can trust your bare buttocks on for your twos. Even corporate offices and government offices-especially- have mistakes for toilets. Corporates try, but there is always something wrong somewhere. These men and women who walk in suits in town are the culprits leaving skid marks on office toilet bowls. Trust me on this. For I have been to a number of respectable corporate bodies and I have been shocked at how dirty their toilets are.

If I sound rather lavatorial today, it is because this is a grave issue. So grave is the issue that even Harpic decided to be advising their detergents during meal times to remind us the task ahead, and the need to clean our home toilets. Because once you step out, simply there will few respectable W.Cs in Nairobi for your lavatorial needs.

I value the toilet more than my bedroom. Or any other room in my house (apartment that is). It is the top priority before I move in to a new apartment. I like my toilet 100% clean, white tiled, well lit. Comfy. Spacious. It is the most valuable and most private place in our lives where we are inundated by all manner of distractions.

I take copious amounts of time in the toilet and the bathroom. Not just for my ones and twos and the morning shower. In fact those who have stayed or lived with me, have accused me of playing with the soap too much in the bathroom, but nothing can be further from the truth. I sit in the toilet to draw my daily roa-dmap. It is where I come up with some of my juiciest lines. It is where I conceive these blogs. It is where my most original thoughts emanate.It is where I make my most important life decisions.

When I step in the shower, I stand there as the hot water runs over my body. And what an exhilarating break it normally is? Soon as I am done scrubbing, I stand there for at least ten minutes. Sometimes blankly, just feeling life. I suspend all my thoughts. I forget all my worries and debts. I just be. For in life, sometimes we need to catch a break. Just forget about everything and feel life. Feel the blood flow through your veins. Feel your heart beat. Ask yourself why you exist. Why should you care about anything? Think about your mortality.

You cannot achieve this anywhere else. There are rude and careless drivers to worry about during the day. Pesky girlfriends and wives to think about. Useless and cheating men to think about. We live in apartments with neighbours who have sewages for brains. You know the fools who hold house parties in flats inconveniencing everyone. Or those who personalize hanging lines from Monday to Monday. Thieving politicians. Al-Shabab. Sonko. Kidero. MPs. There is so much competing for or with with your mental RAM to give you room to look at yourself inwardly. Thus, toilets and bathrooms offer us an opportunity to self-examine ourselves.

That is why I am mad that virtually all businesses in Nairobi ignore this important aspect of life. Only five-star hotels have reasonably trustworthy toilets. And there are less than ten such hotels in Nairobi. Middle-level hotels have terrible toilets. The top of the cistern is always missing. The flushing system always involves pulling some rusty wire that guarantees to give you tetanus. Inside the cistern there is always some greenish substance, so old, it was there at the beginning of time. There is grime all over the place. The taps where we are supposed to wash hands look so dirty; I suspect they will do the reverse-give you an infection. The soap dispenser too is suspect. Ugly even. Some even give you a bar soap that looks as ugly as nothing ever made in this world.

The lower you go on the east side of Moi Avenue, the worse the toilets become. And the pettier the establishments become. You have to show a receipt that you have eaten there before you can use their facility. And the facility is something that stinks with urea from here to Timbuktu. They are namelessly fetid. The toilet bowl is always ‘unseatable’. You will be forced to squat at a precarious angle, often soiling is inevitable.

Clubs are equally silly in this aspect. Most clubs have only one or two toilets. And let the name and the reputations of the club not fool you. Most restaurants and clubs, especially along Lang’ata Road hardly have water, so you have to use some cut-five litre jerrican to wash down the byproducts of mutura, smokies, samosas and beer down the drain. It hardly suffices. Often the floors are too wet. Most of this establishment always have some poor young men who is forced to wash away the adult piss and poor, with a bowl to take tips from the drunk people because may be the chap or the lass are paid 200 per night. It is a dog’s life, man.

But why such a terrible attitude towards toilets from the management. It basically goes to shows what the management thinks of its clientele. You are not that important is what they are telling you.

Here is the thing. A toilet might be a small room but it is a big deal. It is a very important aspect of a restaurant. When the marketing and PR types talk about the “total customer experience” to quote the Economist’s Intelligent Life, they are referring to how central a toilet is to an establishment.

How the toilet looks is a pointer to how the kitchen looks. If it is too dirty, the kitchen will be dirty definitely. The toilet tells you everything you need to know about the establishment and its management.

At time when there are 207 brands of tissue paper (203 of which are crap, dusty and thin to do mount to much) and a 187 brands of toilet detergents, Nairobi would do with more toilets that are cleaner so as to satisfy our toiletry needs. Trust me, part of the reason, Nairobians are petty, irritable is because most of the time, they are too pressed to concentrate. Worse, they can’t find a good toilet. And like me, they only trust a toilet in their house.

Think for a moment that we even pay to use the public toilets. In the Kenyan spirit of running down anything that looks half as likely to be profitable in order to hand it over to private hands-think of Uchumi-even toilets were privatized. Yet the many street children and homes can hardly afford food and shelter, much less to pay Sh 10 for their ablutions. And worse, most of the public toilets don’t operate at night. Therefore overnight budget travelers often turn into alleys to relieve themselves. Combine that with street families and you understand why the CBD smells shit all the time. And that explains why some alleys down Tom Mboya and Odeon are impassable. There is one alley, just past where the Nakuru folks board their buses-just after the Molo Line stage- that is the longest toilet in public. It stinks from here to Nd’jamena in Chad. What has Kidero ever accomplished ever since he slapped Shebesh into irrelevance?

Think of our sewage system. Satelite towns such as Kitengela, Kiserian and neighbouring countries such as Rongai do not have a functional sewage system. They have septic tanks that are emptied periodically, mostly during rain seasons and then pumped into rivers. The same rivers in turn irrigate the spinach and the dhania you eat.

I suppose, other than Kenyan-Indians who reside in towns, the rest of us grew up using pit latrines and the bush. Now this WCs are too much. Little wonder even those household loos can also be a sticky mess. Blame it on the persistent water shortage in Nairobi. It is the reason I rarely go to house parties. Because Nairobians simply do not know how to use toilets.

Something ought to be done. I don’t care if the establishment has the best neon lights. I don’t care if the waitresses wear bikinis. I don’t care if the it the most expensive DJ on the decks. I don’t care if they sell beer for Sh 500. If the loos are shitty (pun pretty much intended), I am not going back there.

Something gotta give.

Toilets also teach us about something class. Private universities such as Strathmore and Riara, have tissue paper for students. Public University cannot afford such. Hence many villagers who graduate from universities scarcely know how to flush down the dirt. Even so poor people rarely care about hows of toiletries. To them, any can do. It is the middle-class folks who tend to be picky. But all of us need a good place at the end of the day to sit down and reflect on our own mortality. For nothing reminds us of the simplicity of life than the mere fact every human being daily checks in to face their biological products, regardless of the fact if they have an attitude or not. Regardless of their station in life, presidents, kings and other royalty. What matters is that the rich and the royalty afford shitting some dignity. Something that Nairobi can do with.


3 thoughts on “The Nairobi Toilet Crisis

  1. You have said what I always thought about Nairobi. I have been in South Africa since January this year for studies. I had a difficult time adapting to using public toilets in the university I am in because I was not used to that in Nairobi. There are toilets all over with cleaners waiting for cleaning time. Toilet paper is availed in all the toilets and the seats are clean. So it took a lot of unlearning for me to begin using them. The other day I met a Nigerian guy and we started discussing the state of toilets in our countries and it was hilarious and at the same time so sickening… Sickening that Nairobi with all its skyscrapers cannot afford decent toilets. That public universities in Kenya have blocks they consider toilets but are just health hazards. As you said, our seriousness as a country is measured by our toilets. We are a shitty nation

  2. Think of our sewage system. Satelite towns such as Kitengela, Kiserian and neighbouring countries such as Rongai do not have a functional sewage system. They have septic tanks that are emptied periodically, mostly during rain seasons and then pumped into rivers. The same rivers in turn irrigate the spinach and the dhania you eat.

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