When nature calls, you have no choice but to answer ... and fast!
It's either that or risk an unflattering accident
This past Monday, November 19, marked the UN's international observance day, World Toilet Day. It is observed to inspire the tackling of the global sanitation crisis which sees 4.5-billion of the planet's human inhabitants living without safely managed sanitation.
The situation is so dire that about 892-million people relieve themselves in the veld due to a lack of toilets. In my capacity as half of Kaya FM 95.9's drive-time show, Uncaptured, my co-host Kgomotso Matsunyane and I interviewed University of Limpopo water and sanitation lecturer Trevor Mulaudzi. He is a passionate advocate for improvement of toilets, which has earned him the moniker "Dr. S.H.I.T".
He'd just returned from South Korea in his capacity as vice-president of the World Toilet Association. He told us our situation here is so dire that, in toilets, we lag behind South Korea.
In that nation not only do they have a Public Toilet Act discussed in every sitting of parliament, they actually have a minister of public toilets.
Just under half of households in this country do not have toilets inside their houses and only 60% are connected to a sewerage system. He also says that maintaining public order and peace is extremely difficult in nations with poor public toilets. If the "poo wars" that characterised public "discourse" a few years ago are anything to go by, I think the man is onto something.
Having access to a decent, flushing toilet is more than just about the human right to dignity. It can be a matter of life and death. If you asked me to choose between streaking across Soccer City in my birthday suit during the Soweto derby and experiencing the pain of needing to go without access, I'd only plead that you don't make me streak on a cold August afternoon because that'd be really unflattering.
My first recollection of being in that situation is the day I attended a football match between my home team, African Wanderers, and Orlando Pirates at Mpumalanga Stadium, in Hammarsdale. I suspect I'd had uphuthu with chilli sugar beans and cabbage for lunch. Ten minutes before halftime my tummy was so angry it was making menacing growling sounds. Sitting was no longer an option, but every time I tried to get up, folks behind me would yell bloodcurdling obscenities at me and throw empty guava-juice bottles at me.
The 10 minutes seemed to last as long as the Comrades Marathon. When the ref blew for halftime I bolted out of my seat too quickly - a mistake. I experienced a tiny accident which made me slow down immediately. And then the long, arduous walk to freedom … hopefully. I should be so lucky. There was a meandering queue to the toilets. Clearly chilli sugar beans and cabbage were popular in my hood.
I waited there for an agonising 20 minutes before my humiliation was completed by a major accident. I walked home, tears streaming down my face, vowing that I'd never find myself in that situation again. How wrong I was!
During the second hour of Uncaptured we asked listeners to share their own personal stories of no access to a toilet. One fellow said last Sunday he'd been driving with his brother from Durban, around Van Reenen's Pass, with no road shoulder to park and do his business. In the end, he simply allowed a warm river of shame to cascade into his pants, onto the car seat and down his legs.
Another caller says she had taken her baby to a park without a bathroom in sight. In danger of wetting herself, she says she'd calmly whipped out one of her baby's Pampers, slipped it on and went about her business. I think that was ingenious.
As the stories came tumbling out, I was reminded of a friend of mine we call The Dark Lord, who suffers from hectic IBS. One lazy Sunday afternoon he's returning from Durban to Joburg. At Harrismith he grabs a Nando's quarter meal which tasted more extra hot than the mild flavour he'd ordered. Everything was fine until he started that long, barren stretch between Warden and Villiers, without a pitstop in sight.
At some point the inferno inside his bowels threatened to erupt, so he parked at the side of the road and visited upon the countryside "violent volcanic explosions". Feeling slightly better, he got back into his vehicle, leaving a toxic spill behind. Hardly 10 minutes later, he was forced off the road to punish the countryside again. By this point he reckons he was convinced he'd left a piece of his intestines on the grass.
By the third time he says he was starting to fantasise about soaking in an ice bath. He says he drove into his driveway in Sandton, at least 4kg lighter. But mostly, the only item of clothing he still had was a pair of boxer shorts. He'd shed his track top, T-shirt, beanie and socks and used them as loo paper during his pitstops.
Access to decent sanitary facilities is no laughing matter. Ask the woman who burst into my folks' TV lounge about two decades ago, hissing: "I'm sorry you don't know who I am but I need to go now" and, without waiting for permission proceeded to the toilet where I was minding my own.
It was so urgent that she got to the toilet with her undergarments already around her knees and burst in, in reverse. The last thing I saw before jumping out of harm's way was a pair of fleshy dumplings approaching my face at 100km/h.