\"Base\" yet Noble

Published on 2nd August 2005

The African Executive visited a number of Public-Pay toilets run by the Nairobi Central Business District Association (NCBDA). Waiganjo shares on his day in running the toilet service.

AE: What prompted the birth of (NCBDA)?

Waiganjo: It was the alarming rate at which the city was decaying. There were a host of challenges facing the city that made doing business almost impossible. The setbacks included insecurity; poor infrastructure, uncollected cabbage, street families and deterioration of the general beauty of the city.

AE: What are the NCBDA objectives?

Waiganjo: The organization’s objectives are to ensure that a conducive city environment prevails through reduction of insecurity; lobby for proper governance and accountability; addressing infrastructural issues and mobilization of the business community to take increased responsibility of the city.

AE: What is your role in the organization?

Waiganjo: I am in charge of three public toilets in the city. It is my work to see that the toilets are in working condition by ensuring that water is available, the water tanks are not leaking, damaged accessories are repaired or replaced and cleaning gear such as gloves and detergents are available. I then write a report and convey it to the head office.

AE: Do you love your job?

Waiganjo: Why not, I was born in this city around River Road. I am 45 years old. I had the privilege of seeing Nairobi when it was the ‘city in the sun’, beautiful, neat clean. But what happened? Public toilets became an eyesore that was ignored for decades until they were taken over by street people and became muggers’ hangouts. I am proud to participate  in reverting the city to its former glory through toilet rehabilitation.

AE: For a long time toilet cleaners were looked upon as base people in the society. Teachers could tell learners that if they failed exams, they could become toilet cleaners. Does that affect you?

Waiganjo: I don’t care what people say. Are they willing to put food on my table? Can they take my children to school? Even the president goes to the toilet. Tony Blair goes to the toilet! The toilet is a honorable place. We can’t all do the same thing. There must be division of labour for effective service delivery! How many Africans are yearning to go to the US to become toilet cleaners! I have a pastor friend who amassed a fortune from the US by cleaning toilets. He is respected here as a rich man but where did he get his riches? The toilet. Even students who go to learn abroad- most of them clean toilets to make a living but on landing in Africa, they don’t want to be associated with it. I am proud of my work.

AE: Do you openly tell your children that you are a toilet cleaner?

Waiganjo: Why not? I have also taught them how to maintain cleanliness.

AE: What challenges do you face in your work?

Waiganjo: The major challenge is lack of water. The city is in dire shortage of this commodity. The next problem is the abuse of the facility either deliberately or out of ignorance on how to use it. For the loos with pans, most people refuse to sit on the pans but prefer to squat on their top. Seeing the dirt, the next customer decides to follow suit. Rarely do people sit on the pans prompting resorting to the use of ones that don’t require pans. Some customers vandalize the toilet equipment. They either break the accessories or steal those that they can’t carry such as flush handles. Others deliberately refuse to deposit their waste in the sink but do it all over the floor leaving behind mounds of human waste and rivulets of urine on the floor. When asked why, they reply that they have paid for the services. In spite of being provided with toilet tissue, other people resort to use their soiled panties and socks. They then drop them in the cistern and as water is flushed, it sucks the garment and blocks the pipe.

AE: An other?

Waiganjo: Oh yes! Look at this facility for example. It is situated in a busy business area next to three bus termini. Travelers from upcountry and the neighbouring Uganda and Tanzania converge here as they travel to and from their respective destinations. When they meet here, we don’t know if there is an ebola outbreak in their region. Our health needs to be put into consideration for we are risking our lives. A customer leaves the loo and you find blood all over. Another one leaves and you find vomit all over. I want to tell you that my experience here indicates that we have a very sick society.

AE:I notice that the back of the door in the gent’s loo is painted black while in the ladies loo it is white. Why the difference?

Waiganjo: Some gents have really let us down. They don’t live up to their name. Most of them write all manner of invectives and ideas on the toilet doors and walls. Some of them draw the human anatomy, others express their political convictions, some narrate their family ordeals, some insult fellow toilet users. It is disgusting! The surprising thing is, some of them use human excreta to scribble. We got one after the act and believe it or not, he was neatly dressed man in a the three piece suit. Never judge a book by its cover.

AE: Has the black paint helped?

Waiganjo: Not to a great extent, for they have resorted to etching. They now use sharp objects to scribble on the door.

AE: Do ladies also do the same?

Waiganjo: Not as much as men. It is just today after a very long time that a lady scribbled  “Jesus is Lord” on the door. But they have their story too. Most of them carry out abortions in these loos. Others have given birth here.

AE: How do you relate to ladies seeing that you are a man?

Waiganjo: I serve them like any other customers. I am happy that ladies are quite open. When they tell us that they lack sanitary towels, we give them more toilet tissue. We try all ways to create a friendly atmosphere. Some people come here heavily pressed. They have no time to produce money or speak. We allow them to relieve themselves first then money comes second. Some come without money. We asses their genuineness and allow them to use the facility. We are human. We have some who are very rude. They say that demanding pay from them is making them to be taxed twice. They even go to the extent of assaulting us physically.

AE: What do you do in cases of gross misconduct?

Waiganjo: I am happy that in most cases, customers have helped us deal with them by arresting the offenders and calling the police. For those who abuse the loos, we give them water and ask them to clean up their mess.

AE: When do you experience great traffic?

Waiganjo: In cold days, rainy seasons and at end month. In cold days, people line up here heavily pressed. Some cannot contain themselves under pressure. They have broken the bathroom door several times to relieve themselves.

AE: What do you do in the event of lack of water?

Waiganjo: I buy it from a private firm in Dagorretti. The firm delivers the water here. The NCBDA has give me that provision.

AE: What are your charges?

Waiganjo: Ksh. 5 for toilet use and Ksh. 20 for bathroom use. For those who use a bathroom, we supply a basin, water and soap.

AE: How much money on average do you gather in a day?

Waiganjo: It is hard to establish the average since we are not stationed in one place. The NCBDA keeps on transferring us to other facilities.

AE: Do you have a specific provision for the physically challenged?

Waiganjo: Yes, we have special toilets for them. We also have buckets for use by Muslims who have to attend the loo with water.

AE: What is your message to the society?

Waiganjo: The role of bringing sanity to our neighbourhoods lies on the singular and collective efforts of inhabitants of the neighborhood. We should learn from each other. We have borrowed extensively from South Africa and Japan. We should not be an insulated society.

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