As I was leaving the office the other day, I realized that I’d been planning to make a trip to the bathroom for the past 3 hours, and hadn’t yet done it. This sometimes happens when I get busy. Growing up taking 4-hour bus trips to get to athletic events will do wonders for your ability to hold it.
However, the day hadn’t been that busy, so as I made my way to the office bathroom, I wondered why I’d put off my bathroom break so long. After finishing my business, I noticed there was no toilet paper. Well never mind, par for the course in Ghana. That taken care of, I went to unlock the door and vacate the bathroom. I turned the key in the lock—but the bolt remained firmly in place. I frowned, then rotated the key another 360 degrees. Same result. I sighed. Why do I put off peeing? Oh yeah. This is why.
If you are male, your urination options are almost infinite in Ghana. No need to worry about exposing yourself near schools and playgrounds; all the kids are peeing and waving at you anyway! Peeing and waving! It’s the best ever.
If you are female, you are theoretically free to join in the peeing and waving. In reality, if you are female and white and you do this, the kids will likely stop peeing and waving and start staring.
If you choose to forego the peeing and waving approach, bathroom options become much more limited. Bushes would seem like a natural option in rural areas (although my more cosmopolitan friends inform me that the majority of Americans have not actually peed in the bush before), but even rural areas are pretty populated in Ghana, so unless you are really out in the boonies, peeing in the bush can readily turn into peeing and waving.
Non-bush bathrooms in Ghana range from swanky to biologically hazardous and probably combustible. When confronted with a Ghanaian bathroom, you will face a choice: pee or hold it. To assist you in your decision, here is my handy pee procrastination tool:
1. How many 250 ml servings of water have you had since you last peed? Add one point for each serving.
2. How many hours will it be to the next convenient bathroom option? Add two points for each hour.
3. Add one point for each of the following that the bathroom has: toilet seat, toilet paper, running water, soap, enough light to see without your cell phone light
4. Can you see feces? If yes, subtract 2 points.
5. How many flies are there? Subtract 1 point for every 10 flies you see.
6. How many canaries would the smell kill? Subtract 2 points per canary.
7. Subtract 1 point for every cockroach, toad, rodent or bathroom attendant who hits on you. Subtract 10 points for every mamba.
8. Is the bathroom unisex? Refer to #firstworldproblems.
If you score 10 or higher, congratulations! Go ahead and pee! If you score below 10, procrastinate.
You are now likely wondering how long I spent in the bathroom coming up with this metric. Well, after the door failed to unlock, I contemplated alternate escape options. The window was glass paned, screened, and barred on the outside. Not promising. I turned my attention to the door knob. Firmly screwed in place. I dug in my pockets and was disappointed to find I had no coins that might function as a screwdriver. Next stop was the door hinges. They were painted over, and wouldn’t budge. The one tool I had on hand, a toilet plunger, seemed unlikely to help me extricate myself. Just when I was starting to think about the most comfortable way to sleep in the tiny room, my coworker came to check on me—she had heard my struggles with the lock on her way out. She unlocked me from the outside, we posted a sign with a dire warning against locking the door, and I went on my way convinced that this was one more reason to pee as rarely as possible.
I have worked in economic policy and research in Washington, D.C. and Ghana. My husband and I recently moved to Guyana, where I am working for the Ministry of Finance. I like riding motorcycle, outdoor sports, foreign currencies, capybaras, and having opinions.