Contrasts of Neatness

Posted on March 26, 2011


It has been almost three weeks since my visit to Alexandria, Egypt where about 40 journalists gathered to discuss various issues. You can check the recollection of some of the Tweets here.

The conference and the discussions were all serious and inspiring, however, Alexandria’s toilet hygiene impressed me the most.

My brother appreciates a locale, a city, a society by its restrooms.  The logic behind this, no pun intended, is simple: the cleaner, the more artistic the restroom the superior the venue. Hence, the quality of a restroom can either put a stain on the venue or on the contrary, highlight its neatness. Well, in Egypt that logic doesn’t work.  There is no class structure when it comes to toilets.  All are the same: a little odorous yet with thoughtful tools for personal hygiene.

If you haven’t had a chance to travel to the Arab world you must be confused. You see, all restrooms in Alexandria have a built in small hygiene fountain. It works similarly to what the westerners know as a bidet.  If for some reason that little feature doesn’t work, there is a small shower attached to the toilet cabin wall to maintain toilet hygiene despite technical difficulties.

Now, can you imagine all the restrooms in the United States having bidets? By my brother’s standards that will be a VIP lounge with a strict face control.


Egyptian civilization has stood at the origins of numerous innovations we use on a daily basis. The sewage system is no exception.  Before the modern flush toilets appeared, most human waste disposal took place outdoors in outhouses and latrines, a communal space with multiple toilets. By the way US Army still uses the term latrine to indicate what is more commonly known as a restroom in the Unites States.

Back to the history: ancient Indus Valley Civilization – Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, located in modern day Pakistan and India did have flush toilets attached to rather sophisticated sewage system. Other innovative minds in this industry were Romans and Egyptians.

Positive Impact:

You are not only keeping yourself clean, but arguably also using relatively fewer rolls of paper, and thus cutting down fewer trees for your  toilet routine.


Despite my admiration of this culture, I still do not understand how such a custom of neatness doesn’t translate into other spheres. For instance, why can’t the buildings be  a bit cleaner? Why beautiful sea shores can’t be waste free? I guess it will take another trip and more research to find the answer.

Posted in: Essay, Middle East