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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 September 2007, 11:41 GMT 12:41 UK
Kampala's public in-conveniences
Joshua Mmali
BBC News, Kampala

In Katanga slum in Kampala, a visit to a public convenience is a luxury which comes at a price.

Gents' loo in Kampala
The 'long drop' solution at a price
Next to a makeshift shebeen where men drink ajono, the local liquor, there's an equally makeshift papyrus structure leaning against a tree.

Inside is a pit with a pile of stones as the target for men to hit when they need to answer a call of nature.

There is no drain-away hole or channel, but Shaban Herman, one of the young men drinking in the bar, tells me that the stones help channel the streams of urine down the pit.

I ask him where people go for what here they term "a long call".

Shaban points to another place, 50m away, where customers must pay to use the facility.

"That is why we use the papyrus structure for the short call," he explain.

We save our money for the big one - the long call."

Money in muck

What used to quaintly be called "spending a penny" here costs 100 Ugandan shillings (six US cents).

I want to advise people here and in Africa that they should not look down upon jobs like this one.
Toilet attendent
''Sometimes if you really cannot pay, they may let you use it free of charge - but not all the time," Shaban says.

Katanga slum is a rickety collection of hovels reached by dirt tracks, with almost no chance of finding a home with a flushing toilet.

The lucky handful have pit latrine structures - but these can be precarious, littered with human waste and held together by sticks and old tins which threaten to give way at the worst possible moment.

I came across another public toilet that serves the families of thousands of slum dwellers, also costing 100 shillings per visit.

How can the residents of Katanga afford it? I asked John Opiyo, the toilet attendant, what he does if people can't pay.

''You have to let them use the toilet and pay when they get the money", he explained.

"Most people here are poor, so we have to understand. Children below 18 don't pay. We only charge adults,'' he says.

At the Old Taxi Park, the busiest bus terminus and departure point in the city, I met another toilet attendant who was coy about giving me his name.

"When I tell you I quit teaching to become a public toilet keeper, you should be able to understand the level of unemployment and poor labour reward in this country,'' he told me.

Treetrunk pissoir in Kampala
The alternative - but only for men

His new job may not have the same status but he says he's doing rather well out of it: "I want to advise people here and in Africa that they should not look down upon jobs like this one."

The Old Taxi Park attendant would no longer even consider going back to teaching - in fact he feels pity for those still trapped in a profession that does not pay them a living wage, but he reserves the greater pity for the unemployed and ignorant.

"Worse still, I pity those who look down upon people like me yet they don't have jobs at all.''

At least some clients are duly appreciative: "These attendants are doing a great job. When you think about what they have to do throughout the day to keep this place clean, we should be paying even more than this," one happy customer told me.

Would you pay to pee?
03 Nov 05 |  Africa

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