Savannah View: Writings In The Toilet – By Manasseh Azure Awuni
Riddle, riddle! There is a room that anytime you enter, you automatically get mad. What is this room? This is one of the commonest children’s riddles, and you would often be told that that room is the bathroom. Irrespective of your level of sanity, you strip naked when you enter the bathroom, don’t you?
But I’m about to show you one room where people get madder. That is the toilet. How? Wait a second! Before I proceed, however, don’t blame me for not romanticizing the word “toilet” as “Gents” or the “Ladies”. If what I’m about to take you through is gentlemanly, then you can go ahead and accuse me.
Since infancy, I have always seen writings in toilets. I used to conclude that it was children, but I have grown to realise that not only children are toilet writers. I also used to associate it with insanity because a mad man in Kete Krach called Vasco Da Gama was well-known for such arts. He wrote on other buildings as well. But one place he painted very well with his writing is the public toilet at Kete-Krachi Lake Side. But not all toilet writers are mad either.
Back at the senior high school, I found writings like: “Direct your ‘tube’ into the hole and stop urinating on the floor”, “Mr. So So and So is a foolish tutor” and in some public toilets, I have read “Stop smoking in the toilets, you fools,” among others. But some have taken this bizarre business to a different level.
I am currently standing in the male toilet of the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ). The scent here is not very good for my nose, but this is one of the occupational hazards of this thankless job of a toilet correspondent. And I must bear it with the highest level of stoicism.
When I gained admission into this Institute, these walls above the glittery tiles were newly painted and they were as white as the foam of fresh palm wine. But as I as I stand in the third one from the entrance, there is hardly a place to write a dot. The writings are many and some are too unpleasant so I will edit those ones out. Now start with me from the top right side of the wall.
“Everybody dies famous in a small town.” This person has no comment to his proverb because no one seems to have time for those who make good use of the “limited space” here. Then bellow this, someone writes, “I think GIJ is proud of me.” He gets replies, “Foolish boy, what about me the womanizer?” someone again replies, “Idiot, have you broken the record of 500 women yet?”
Then there is this bloke, who, I think, is not happy with his life. He writes, “I wish I wasn’t born.” “Why?” someone asks, “let me know.”
There is this also on the wall. “Evil triumphs only when good men ‘does’ nothing, so Ghanaian journalists must do the right thing.” Does this chap know the meaning of what he has written? Is he doing the right thing to this innocent wall as an upcoming journalist? Maybe he can start by reconciling his subjects and verbs. Let me scribble this one before I move to the next room, the middle one.
The middle toilet is now free, so I am going there. A few minutes ago, someone was struggling here as if he was expelling stones from his bowels. He perhaps needs some banana from Asibi to fight his constipation. It’s the acute type.
Yes, I’m now here. As usual, let’s start from the top “Sex is sweet.” “Ganja sweet, but bad.” “Fuck off!“ someone replies him.
“Writing on the walls is damn bad stuff,” someone writes. “But your writing is also on the wall?” someone asks. “So what, fools?” “Big fool!” “Bigger fool” “Biggest fools,” all written by different people.
This is the most popular of all the writings in GIJ male toilets: “GIJ is my dream school.” And someone who, perhaps, does not like the school replies him, “Kwaashia goat. Bad Dream!”
Another conversation begins. “Stop writing ‘umpolite’ sentences on the wall.” “Your English is wrong,” someone reminds him. Now hear this: “I won’t smoke again. What about you?” “You are a big fool. I’ll continue smoking.”
These ones have decided to write a dialogue:
Sadingo: Please write good literature on the walls.
Awilo: O.K I promise I will.
Sandingo: But you are all painting the wall.
Awilo: Ah, but you see we are in a communication institute.
A: That’s a foolish comment from a foolish boy.”
An anonymous writer jumps in: “From the way you write foolish,” someone joins the dialogue, “I can see you’re impersonating someone.”
A: “I can also say from the way you write that you did not finish tracing My First Copy Book.” “Hey guys your grammar is poor.”
“Finally I foresee danger for mother Ghana with all of you alive,” another writer comes in. Why did he say finally? The wall is simply full and he thinks no one can have space to write anything else. Remember I have not written everything on the walls, else this write up would be more voluminous than Encyclopedia Britannica.
The first room is now free so I’m moving in there too. Here let me start with this very guy who is proud some girls call him names. He writes: “Tech girls call him romantic. Legon girls call him bombastic. Cape Vars girls call him fantastic. But his own people call him Ray.” Then someone replies, “But I call you a big fool.” We thought we knew who wrote this. Raymond. I mean Michael Thompson, my mate. He is, indeed, a great writer and may have started his skill in the loo.
“Respect and stop your SSS life style. We dey tertiary,” someone reminds them all. Let me end this report with this saying at the bottom of the wall: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”
Maybe by now you’re questioning the point in reporting toilet graffiti. And you may be asking which of the two is madder: the one writing in the toilet or the journalists who goes to report such writings. But I want you to add a third person before deciding – the person who reads the report on the mad writings.
For the graffiti writer and the reader, I don’t know their motivation but I can defend the poor toilet correspondent. This piece is actually targeted at human resource managers and public relations officers of organisations.
Ever since I entered the GIJ male toilet with my notepad three years ago to compile this write up, I have paid close attention to writings in toilet facilities. Toilets have become the most suitable platorm for some people to express their grievances. The GIJ toilet, for instance, contained a lot of issues against some specific lecturers and authorities of the institute, which I left out because of their defamatory nature. Some of them were, however, a reflection of the situation on the ground.
There was for instance the question: “Who are the junkiest lecturers in GIJ.” The word junky might have been too harsh but the list the list that followed, and the justifications and defense of who should not have been included, could provide a fair and candid assessment of the lecturers.
In educational institutions, writings in toilets may not be that serious but I have seen some really serious ones at work places. For some reasons, including the fear of victimization, some people do not contribute at workers’ durbars and would not drop anything in the suggestion box. For such people, the toilet provides that security and the real avenue for the expression of their freedom of thought.
Writing in the toilet is a communication channel that has long been ignored. Perhaps, if a manager wants to know his real performance, then let him ask a simple question in the washroom. If the public relations officer wants to know how internal publics perceive their organisation, without praise-singing, let them ask it in the toilet. And if the HR manager wants to know who is the best person for a particular vacancy, then the toilet may well be another important channel.
Perhaps, communication academicians may consider researching into the field of toilet writing. Did you say weird? Well, if people research on how crabs mate, then why are toilet writings not researchable?
Yes, we are in an internet age where such a barbaric channel of communication must not be tolerated. It should however tell communication managers that though it is not appropriate, it is a sign that workers still need a more appropriate channel to express themselves.
The next time you enter a public place of convenience or that of an organisation, open your eyes and widely and scan the wall properly. And you will understand why the toilet writer, the toilet journalist and their reader are not mad.
It is not likely many managers will pay attention to such writings. So, for now, let’s consider toilet writing as a form of comic relief while we relieve our bowels. We don’t always have to take life so seriously.
By the way, who is madder: the toilet writer, the toilet reporter or the one who read from the beginning to the end?