Confessions of the Public Urinator

Nov 7 , 2020
By Kidist Yidnekachew

As I was walking home on a sunny afternoon recently, I decided to make my journey worthwhile by taking bites from the wrapped food I was carrying. I was starving and could not wait until I got home.

Soon, I realised that all eyes were on me. Then the looks turned into comments.

“Glutton,” was one insult thrown at me.

I rolled my eyes at the guy who called me that and gave him a look that warned him to mind his own business.

“Aren’t you going to invite me to eat,” said another a little while later. “Geez,” someone else added.

Things were only going to get more bizarre. As I turned a corner, I saw a guy urinating by the street. No one paid attention to him. Then he looked at my food as I was wiping my hands and had the audacity to tell me off.

“You glutton! How could you eat on the road?” He had not even finished doing his business.

All I can muster in the heat of the moment was a dumbfounded look that asked: “Are you serious right now?”

We had a back and forth, and it went well after he was done with his business. I mentioned that there is much being done in the city to make it clean and pleasing to look at, and what he was doing was antithesis to this.

“You're right, but there's no bathroom around here. I couldn’t hold my pee any longer,” he said. “Besides, I am not the only one who urinates here.”

To a certain extent, I could understand where he was coming from. Public bathrooms are rarely available. It is common to find those that are either locked, out of service or do not have water. Some work has been done to improve this reality in places like Sidist Kiloor Arat Kiloby upgrading vacant public spaces to open coffee houses for people to sit down, have coffee and, if necessary, use the toilet. But, as this guy was witness, more needs to be done.

No less complicating is that some cafes lack proper toilets or do not allow passersby to use their facilities. It is clear that the challenge exists when it is not uncommon to see older women publicly urinating. At least, the women are conscious of what they are doing though and mostly choose secluded spaces. Men seem to take a certain pride in such an unsightly public act.

The conversation with the public urinator did not end with his public transgression.

“Why do you eat on the road?” he said. “It isn’t good. You will get an ‘evil eye.’”

I made it clear that I doubt any such superstitions are real. But he insisted on pinpointing what was wrong with my public eating.

“Also, in our culture, you don’t even get up to greet someone no matter how important that person is if you’re eating,” he said. “That shows the value we give to food.”

It is hard to justify his last point, but I could not deny that it is healthier and more satisfying to eat seated. Another downside is waste. Discarded banana peels are prominent features of our streets as are tissue papers people use to wipe their hands. But, on the whole, if one is eating and cleaning up carefully, there is no harm in public eating.

No doubt, these are not why eating in public is frowned upon. It is simply not culturally acceptable because of the rituals attached to eating. More relevant to my experience is also probably that women eating out in public – so far from the kitchen – exhibit certain confidence and autonomy. A man eating on the streets does not inspire nearly as much push back.

This was not the first time I got called out for public eating. But this was the first time I struck up a conversation with one of the men who called me names. He finally admitted that he could have been tactful and even mentioned that he has been setting a bad example for his daughter.

It was a small but sweet victory.

PUBLISHED ON Nov 07,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1071]

Kidist Yidnekachew is interested in art, human nature and behaviour. She has studied psychology, journalism and communications and can be reached at (

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