I was recently reading an article that discussed some of the negative implications of the Sex Offender Registry Act, one being that there end up being a number of individuals who are placed on the list due to crimes such as public urination. As I was reading this I laughed out loud, not because I find sex offenders funny, but because I thought of the absurdity of trying to implement a similar policy where I live now. If the Sex Offender Registry existed in Togo and had the same side effects of the act in the U.S., roughly every single man in Togo would be on the registry.
Public urination is entirely common here in Togo. It is mostly men who frequently urinate in public, though when on long voyages women will as well. Women tend to be a bit more discrete, but men will just whip it out wherever they are and whoever is around. On some walls you find signs spray painted on saying “deffense d’uriner,” but everyone continues to urinate publicly. To my American sensibilities it can be sometimes shocking as I am walking down the street and a man shouts my name to say hello and start a conversation only to see that at the time he is holding his penis and urinating. All I can really do to cope is acknowledge to myself that, “yep, that’s happening” and I just shout “hello,” look the other way and hurry on.
Some men are more discrete and find a spot in the bushes, but there are some more brazen, and in Lomé I have passed one man literally standing in the middle street urinating. There are those Togolese that oppose this common behavior and recognize its dirtiness, but there are no facilities really to give people an option not to do so. There are very few public restrooms to be found here. A few villages have constructed public latrines, but not many. Bars often only have a “urinoir” or basically a walled in piece of ground to pee on. With cultural habits it is also unlikely that someone would ever ask to use another person’s restroom, especially if it is inside their house.
I know I’ve battled with the lack of public restrooms, particularly if I am ever out of my house for the whole day or traveling. I find myself avoiding drinking water to limit the chances I’ll have need of a restroom and have found myself with a dehydration headache at the end of long work days. The gender difference with this issue is quite evident and male volunteers end up having a much easier time as it is appropriate socially for them to urinate in public, but for women the general rule is to hold it until you get home. You know, you don’t want to get put on that registry for showing your bum in public or anything!