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Cleanliness is next to godliness

October 11, 2013

A while back, I wrote about this woman whose toilet ethics were definitely not complementing her outward beauty. For the sake of those who didn’t read the article, let me just say that this woman didn’t seem to know what the phrase “leave a place better than you found it” meant. In short, she used the toilet and left it not habitable for the next person who came in; unfortunately that person happened to be me. The thing is,  since that day, every time I see this woman I associate her with a messy toilet. I don’t know how that image will ever be “exorcised” from my mind. Anyway, moving on...

Last Friday I had another awkward encounter with yet another woman, actually two of them. You see, our office block is built in such a way that every floor has both ladies and gents toilets but on different wings. I don’t know about the gents but in the ladies toilets, each toilet has three cubicles. I happened to have gone into one of the toilets and found two women talking. The only thing was that each was in their own cubicle busy offloading whatever they had eaten earlier as well as gossiping. I know we women are good at multi-tasking but somehow, I found this scenario very discomfiting. I therefore decided to step outside and stand outside while waiting for them to finish whatever they were doing. As a matter of fact, my head and eyes were tired after being glued to the various screens I use at work for as long as I had been and so, this was a welcome distraction for me.

After a while, one of the women came out of the cubicle and didn’t even bother washing her hands! The second one did the same too but unfortunately for me, this second one happened to be someone I know very well. In fact, I go to their office many times and guess who offers me tea? You got it right. She does. Unfortunately she too did not wash her hands, and the worst part was, she was coming straight to where I was standing and looked like she wanted to shake my hand! Of course there was no way I was going to let that happen, and so I “suddenly” got a sneezing attack. By the time I was done with my sudden “multiple sneezes”, she had forgotten that she had wanted to shake my hand. We had some small talk then I told her I needed to get back to my office.

The truth is, I didn’t use the toilet at all after that. The very fact that I saw those two women not washing their hands made me cringe when I imagined that those dirty hands had touched the door knobs. The thing is, this is not the first time I have seen someone walk out of the toilet without washing their hands, but it is the first time I have seen someone I interact with so often do this. What to me was most disturbing is the fact that this person serves me tea enough times whenever I go to their office. I can’t help but wonder how many times she’s served me tea after coming from the toilet, with unwashed hands! Oh! How disturbing that thought is!

As I walked back to my office I wondered; do these women have kids? If yes, do they teach their kids how to be hygienic? Or are they bringing up another generation of unhygienic human beings? I am of the school of thought that if you can’t do something yourself, then you can’t influence those who look up to you to do it. You will not have any conviction, or any authority to encourage them because after all, who will they look up to if you yourself don’t have the discipline to do it? This mentality is not just in the hygiene area. It affects all areas of our lives.

For instance, you must have seen parents who drink and/or smoke in the presence of their children. In fact, some of them go to the extent of sending their kids to the shops to buy them cigarettes and/or cans of beer. For those who already have a fully stocked fridge, these parents send their kids to the fridge to get the alcoholic drink of their choice for them. In a situation like this, no offense meant to the beer and cigarette companies, but how do you expect that these parents will ever convince their children that drinking/smoking is bad for their health? As far as the kids are concerned, what is good for mama and papa is good for them too. Kinda reminds me of yet another article I had written titled Monkey See, Monkey Do.

Another example is where parents lie to/or in front of their children. For instance, a mother tells her daughter to tell any guest who comes home that she is not there, yet she is comfortably sleeping in her room. How do you expect that child to ever be truthful in her life when she learnt how to lie, in fact, she was encouraged to lie by her own mother? How will you as a parent react when she starts lying to you? Will you even have the guts to tell her that lying is wrong? Now that’s a scenario I’d like to see.
 
When it comes to the office environment, the same logic applies. For those of you in management or leadership positions, you need to know that those who report to you will follow your steps closely. I don’t mean they will be like puppies following you everywhere, I mean they are likely to copy your behaviors. For instance, if you are a leader who is known to be time conscious, then your juniors will most likely be very keen on time too. If you are one who is known for proper documentation, then you can be sure your juniors will be very careful when it comes to documentation too. If you are big on customer experiences, then your staff will be good on that too. In other words, the culture you as a leader expose to the rest of your organization is what they will follow. 
 
Back to our office block, I honestly believe that these women who have a problem flushing toilets and washing their hands are the same ones who have no qualms about picking their noses and scratching their armpits in public. These are the same women who don't know the importance of using toilet paper after a short-call, and that's why by mid-morning when you come close to them you'll be forgiven for thinking there's a skunk in the room. If they can’t do the right thing for themselves, then how do you expect them to direct others to do the right thing? If this continues, then I am afraid there might be a pandemic in that building very soon. This is the time for some NGO to take advantage of the situation and organize a CSR program geared towards encouraging basic hygiene in the work place. Whether you are a man or a woman, washing your hands after using the toilet (whether at home or elsewhere) will not cost you a thing, but it can save you a lot of unnecessary costs e.g. being treated for cholera.
 
While we are still on the topic of hygiene, even men are not exempt. How about ensuring you trim your nails regularly to stop them from looking like you use them to harvest potatoes or arrowroots? Then there are those who neglect their ears to the point of looking like they compete with bees to produce honey, only in their case it's loads of earwax. For goodness' sake, you are a human being, besides, don't you know that cleanliness is next to Godliness?  For those who have chronic bad breadth, how about making sure you take care of your mouth by brushing your teeth regularly and properly, not forgetting to brush your tongue too!
 
 
And for fresh-air’s sake, use fresh breath mints to arrest your foul breath whenever it starts showing signs of attacking you, otherwise, don't be surprised that she has a "headache" every time you want to kiss her. And for those who have toxic body odour, take a shower thrice daily if necessary and please invest in products that counter your body odour. Don’t be that person whose presence is announced by his/her toxic stench long before people set their eyes on you. 
 
To conclude my article this week, my humble request to all of us is to be the change we want to see. If you want to find clean toilets wherever you go, then make sure you leave every toilet you use clean for the next person to use. If you want to see a clean environment, then start by not littering. If you want to see less traffic congestion, then stop overlapping on the roads. If you want to end corruption, then be the first one to be uncorrupted. It all begins with you. Remember, character is what you do when nobody is watching you.
 
Wishing you an extremely hygienic week.  
 
PS: Article published in Tanzania's Guardian on Sunday on the 6th October, 2013, under my weekly column "Thoughts in Words"

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