A month after they arrived in Manila, the new ambassador of a European country and his wife hosted a dinner party to get to know personally the members of the diplomatic community. “Bawal umihi dito,” they greeted each arriving guest, including the Papal Nuncio. The early arrivals huddled together and asked each other why the hosts were receiving the guests with an impertinent greeting. They decided to resolve their extreme puzzlement by requesting the Papal Nuncio to ask the couple at the first opportune time.
As the ambassador and the guests were animatedly engaged in conversation in the garden, the wife of the ambassador withdrew inconspicuously from the gathered dignitaries and went to the kitchen – to check if dinner was ready. The Nuncio, seeing his opportunity to strike a private conversation with the hostess, sauntered into the mansion, pretending to be looking for the lavatory. When the hostess approached him, the holy man asked if he as a man of God could be given the privilege of using the toilet.
“Of course, Your Excellency!” exclaimed the lady. “Your Excellency did not have to ask,” added the lady. The Nuncio wasted no time in getting to the bottom of what seemed to be an impolite reception of the venerable members of the diplomatic corps and their spouses. This is how the conversation that followed went:
The Nuncio: “Why did you tell the guests as they came in ‘Bawal umihi dito’?”
Hostess, smiling with an air of pride: “Wherever we are assigned, we try to speak as much as possible in the local language.”
The Nuncio: “But why might I ask greet the guests with the admonition ‘Bawal umihi dito’?”
Hostess: “What admonition? Isn’t ‘bawal umihi dito’ the welcome greeting in this country like Selamat Datang in Indonesia and Sawadee in Thailand?”
The Nuncio: “What made you think so?”
Hostess: “On the day we arrived in the country we were welcomed with the sign ‘Bawal umihi dito.’ We saw it on walls all along the route, from the airport to our new neighborhood. As we neared our new residence, the ambassador even remarked ‘The Filipinos are really the most hospitable people. Didn’t you notice they even painted the greeting on the wall of our new residence? They are so cute, they even have one nailed to the tree by the gate.”
That was a joke that did the rounds many years ago. Most of the signs have disappeared from walls and trees because property owners consider it futile to advise passersby that peeing against the wall is prohibited. Property owners have resigned to the fact that peeing against walls and trees is an ingrained habit of many male Filipinos. It is something they developed during their primary and secondary school days. The queues to the one solitary toilet bowl or urinal in public schools are so long that many boys would miss at least one class if they wait for their turn at the bowl or urinal. So, boys just wait until class is dismissed to run to the nearest concrete fence or tree outside the school premises to relieve or comfort themselves.
By the time they reach adulthood, the crass behavior has become conditioned reflex. Upon sight of a wide wall or a tree with a large trunk, the urge to piss seizes them. The walls become more inviting during election time when they are plastered with the posters of politicians running for office, particularly of public officials running for reelection.
For most of the month of December, the top news of the early evening news programs of the TV stations was the horrendous traffic in the streets of Metro Manila. Negotiating EDSA from Makati to Quezon City or the reverse way during working hours took two to three hours because vehicles moved at a snail’s pace. When delivery truck and jeepney drivers, and even private motorists, stalled in traffic jams saw a tall wide wall like the perimeter wall of Camp Aguinaldo and of Bel Air Village, they just got off their vehicle, faced the wall, and relieved themselves.