Saudi Arabia: Ramadan is Coming – Keep the Toilets Clean

I have always enjoyed traveling by car for the opportunities to see more and especially in Saudi Arabia which was a new territory for me.  However the first trip between Riyadh and Makkah I discovered that toilet facilities were abysmal.  I did not go further than the doorway at the toilet facilities provided by gas stations due to the stench emanating from inside.  Rest areas with private resting rooms where one can pay and have a room with a private toilet did not guarantee cleanliness either.  The other option was to use the toilet at the mosque which is always adjacent to a rest area.  Sadly even the toilet where one is to prepare themselves for absolution before prayers was probably among the worse.  I found in all public toilets that there would be inches of dirty water on the floor.  The “two stepper” toilets themselves would be covered with fecal matter, paper, sanitary napkins and sometimes dirty diapers.  A person is expected to situate themselves around this debris and conduct their private business.  Even the washing area for cleaning up afterwards would have dirty diapers floating atop the water.

After a few experiences of encountering such disgusting toilets I would have my husband stop in a more deserted area on the road with some privacy so I could go and relieve myself in the desert where it was much cleaner.  Either he or one of my stepdaughters would shield me from sight with a large blanket.  I was much more comfortable and less fearful of catching some kind of disease using the public toilets.

Arab news had a recent article also discussing the poor condition of the toilets at public washrooms during travel.  The article also includes the condition of toilets at shopping malls, train stations, airlines and on board flights.  It is true that the conditions of these toilets are just as deplorable.  I’m certain that individuals do not allow the toilets in their own room to be in such a condition so why do they overlook etiquette and cleanliness during travel?

Ramadan will be coming soon and there will be an influx of travelers to Makkah to perform umrah.  To keep down the risk of germs and disease the people should be cognizant and make an effort to clean up after themselves.  It would also be prudent to have attendants on hand whose duty is to ensure the washrooms are clean and usable.  The condition of the toilets does not enhance the image of Saudi Arabia.



22 Responses

  1. Eeeeeh…..Yes, the downside of traveling and living abroad. I have about zero tolerance for dirty bathrooms. I am a well traveled person and I not want to perceived as a prissy but, I cannot stand the smell and to look at filthy bathrooms. Always makes me gag.
    I agree, there ought to be some plan to keep the bathrooms clean. And, yes, it does, reflect the culture.
    In Malaysia, the cooks at canteen wonder why I never eat there. Of course I have to lie and tell them I don’t eat meat, but the truth is the bathroom has fecal matter all over the floor, the toilet clogged over the rim and the SMELL! There is no soap and of course no toilet paper. I know it sounds bad, but I do not eat in place that has a filthy bathroom. I had typhoid fever(even vacinated for it) that nearly killed me as a child.( I had to leave the country to get medical attention)
    I really do not know a plan or course of action to keep public bahtrooms clean but there is an answer out there.

  2. Praise the Lord. I wonder how easy it will be to effect change in this area in a country where people are used to having servants? And then I have also heard that in Saudi, this is a problem that pertains in particular to ladies’ rooms…

  3. Caraboska, I wouldn’t be surprised if the reason for that was that they DO have someone to clean the men’s rooms 😉 naaa, just kidding, I’m sure that they don’t but I would think that they should and very well could have attendants in the public restrooms.

    I’m sure that this is not just a Saudi thing but I can’t understand how people who are supposed to be so clean to pray 5 times a day could stand being around such disgusting filth in the very place that they are supposed to be cleaning themselves. ugh!

    I’m with you Jacey, I won’t eat somewhere where the bathrooms are disgusting. If there is no soap in the bathroom then the employees did not wash their hands after using the bathroom and I certainly don’t want to eat anything prepared by them.

  4. First of all, its ablution, not absolution.
    And secondly, dirty toilets on the highway can be found throughout the world. Its not just Saudi Arabia! You can’t expect all Gas Station Owners to get them cleaned up.
    However, this is not the case everywhere. Have you checked out the bathrooms and toilets in Mecca and Madinah? They are so clean and spotless, you could eat off the floor! I have never seen cleaner toilets ever!

  5. ‘First of all, its ablution, not absolution’

    Blame the chemo, I hear it makes the Catholic come out in some. LOL

  6. I`ve been to Saudi for Umrah and stayed for about a week. It`s true that Mekkah and Madinah have in general, clean bathrooms but I don`t doubt that it`s far from the same when it comes to other parts of the country.
    Being from Algeria, I can also say that there is a major public bathrooms issue out there. The worse is that most of them require payment at the door in order to relieve oneself. And it`s not like you`re getting a good bargain for your money. It`s filthy to not say monstrous. It`s a shame because, Islam advocates cleanliness and especially during Ramadan as you`ve mentionned it. I hope something will be done about that.

  7. aliadlw,
    I have traveled throughout Europe, including Norway, and not ever found bathrooms as disgusting as the ones I’ve found in Saudi. I will grant the bathrooms in Riyadh’s airport have been cleaned up over the years I’ve been here, including adding toilet paper and towels. I can’t speak the cleanliness of facilities in Mecca and/or Medina. As a non-Muslim, I’m not permitted to visit those cities.
    I agree with Carol, while driving through Saudi, I prefer to fins a secluded rock in the desert. Much cleaner than any “modern” facility.

  8. When I performed Umra…we did not find even one single bathroom along the bus route that was even close to sanitary. All of them were disgusting hot messes with the ladies hiking their clothing up before they even stepped in the door ways. Most of the squatting toilets were full to over flowing with everything imaginable and yet we HAD to use them because there simply wasnt any alternatives. It was certainly an eye opener and quite a statement the govt and people of that country were making about themselves because that is the same route many Umrah travelers will take…the same bathrooms they will see (and be forced to use) and come back home with stories of filth and digust. Not very tourist friendly.

    Whenever you travel you are sure to find a filthy toilet somewhere along the way…but our trip to Saudi and back had every toilet a mess except the ones in Mecca and Medina themselves. (hotels or mosques)

    I happen to work in a convenience store that gets a lot of travelers as we are right off a major highway. I do not need telling twice to keep our bathrooms clean because, not only do customers use them…but so do I and I wont use a filthy toilet (unless forced by circumstances) so why should I expect them too?

  9. I know for a fact that this is not just an expat’s beef, nor is it only a problem for poor Saudis. I have heard a few Saudi associates comment on the state of the highway facilities between Riyadh and Makkah and I know that one of them likes to send letters to the editor periodically to ensure this matter is not forgotten.

    Unfortunately, it has seemed that the princes who are meant to be looking after this area have never once stepped foot in it. It’s encouraging to hear that Prince Sultan bin Salman (as per the article you linked) has finally acknowledged the problem, but time will tell of the success of it’s implementation.

    Honestly, though, surely how hard would it be to send a crew of cleaning people to man these stations? It’s no secret that they can afford the 400SR/month bill for each person. I have also heard that it is not only the toilets that are a mess but the mosques as well. You would think the government would take a special interest in maintaining the sanctity of it’s houses of worship, especially along a common pilgrim route.

    I’d say this problem is “out of sight, out of mind” to those people who can make a difference. I hope that changes. It is a sorry state of affairs.

  10. @aliadlw,

    at makka and madina the toilets are clean only around al haram.

    you are right dirty toilets on the highway can be found throughout the arab/muslim world Its not just Saudi Arabia! it’s hard to understand as muslims we must keep ouselves clean for praying, how can we when we travel?

  11. carol — not a good topic to browse with morning tea and toast 🙂

    Especially since i can real off all the infections and associated symptoms onegets when not using proper hygine or unsanitary facilities…

    It’s easy to clean up, but having people adhere to cleanliness and maintaining it is another matter.. the Govt can clean it up as much as you want but if the users don’t do their part its going to be dirty..In this instance i’d say the govt can play a 25%part — rest is up to individuals, hopefully they can appeal to their sense of cleanliness…

  12. I must say that the toilets in the train stations in Riyadh and Damman are very clean.

  13. It is indeed a crying shame that in the oil rich saudi mafiadom awash with petro dollars that one finds such abysmal facilities, as basic as public restrooms. While it can surely spend billions on maintaining the lifestyles of its’ rich and famous princes/princesses (27,000 at last count), mostly abroad, it fails to deliver basic amenities to its citizens and hajj pilgrims.

    Not sure how many of you have witnessed the physical acrobats many muslims go through to perform wudu, which contributes to the uncleanliness of public restrooms (planes, trains, mosques, malls, etc.). Koran basically says in 5:7: “Wash your face, and your hands up to the elbow, and lightly rub your heads and feet up to the ankles”.

    But no! Majority of muslims do not follow this SIMPLE koranic command and instead follow the more complicated and torturous physical acrobats described in over a dozen hadees. So Mohammed’s commandments take precedence over Allah’s commandments. Then muslims vehemently deny that they worship Mohammed! Same goes for number of prayers: koran prescribes only three while Mohammed prescribed 5. Again, Mohammed over Allah!

    Here’s a typical hadith which describes the complicated and arduous task of performing wudu and compare it to the SIMPLE koranic commandment I referenced earlier:

    Bukhari (1:4:42): Narrated ‘Ata’ bin Yasar: Ibn ‘Abbas performed ablution and washed his face (in the following way): He ladled out a handful of water, rinsed his mouth and washed his nose with it by putting in water deep into the nostrils and then blowing it out with full force. He then, took another handful (of water) and did like this (gesturing) joining both hands, and washed his face, took another handful of water and washed his right forearm. He again took another handful of water and washed his left forearm, and passed wet hands over his head and took another handful of water and poured it over his right foot (up to his ankles) and washed it thoroughly and similarly took another handful of water and washed thoroughly his left foot (up to the ankles) and said, “I saw Allah’s Apostle performing ablution in this way.”

    I have personally witnessed muslims performing wudu (and so has my wife) here in Seattle at malls, airports, libraries, colleges, etc. etc. They leave the sinks and floors all grossed out and slippery wet. It is really sickening. It doesn’t have to be that way if they simply followed the SIMPLE koranic commandment on wudu :)-

  14. Discusting! Its a shame that people have such little self respect. I say self respect becasue those who respect themselves present themselves in the best light. Shows the mentality of the people.

  15. My Muslim daughter would also soak the whole bathroom and not mop it up behind herself showing no regard for the next person slipping through it. So it isn’t just a ‘cultural’ thing.

  16. I remember stopping at one gas station in the US where the toilet did not have a seat and there was no sink as it had been removed from the wall, or something of the sort. I have seen my share of nasty bathrooms during road trips around the US, but this was at the top. If ones in Saudi are just as bad, then I think I’d also take my chances in the desert- with or without a blanket! 😀 (There is nothing attractive about peeing, as far as I’m concerned, and when you gotta go- you gotta go!)

    One plus side to the UK rail stations charging money to use the toilets was that this meant there were also attendants to keep them clean! Although finding correct change was sometimes difficult, I much preferred this to dirty ones. However, if you can hold it until you’re on the train, those are fairly clean too, and they’re free! 😉

  17. I’ve also seen my fair share of dirty bathrooms while travelling. Although I have seen some dirty bathrooms in Saudi, I’ve also seen them in Turkey, Canada, US, Egypt, Spain, Bahrain etc… So this thing with filthy bathrooms is not islolated to Saudi alone.

    FYI here in the Eastern Province at Dhahran Mall, Al Rashid Mall, Ikea, Chili’s and many other places, you will usually find someone in the washroom who cleans/sanitizes the stalls after ever use.

  18. Funny that this is the topic as I have been traveling a lot these last few weeks by car and invariably have to stop. It has been my experience or perhaps good fortune that in every public rest area I have stopped while driving on this particular trip it was been sparkling clean. MANY people use these facilities a day and other than an occasional stray piece of toilet paper or a stooped up toilet…they are invariably very clean and maintained well with an attendant on duty to take care of it. Also, there is often vending machines and snacks available. One of the Welcome stations (welcoming you to the state as you cross the state line providing info, maps, and various other touristy stuff) I came across in Georgia was so nice it had leather couches to sit in with table lamps and art work on the wall…nicer than many peoples living rooms! I thought “holy cow!” and then I felt so grateful to live in a place where the clean bathroom along the highway is more the rule than the exception.

  19. Oby…I visited the same sort of visitors center along the highway on the way to Utah last week. The parking lot was packed with cars…and it is a major highway (I-80) and therefore gets lots and lots of traffic…and yet the bathrooms were quite all right. Snack machines as well…and the grounds outside were pretty and maintained.

    Personally speaking …hands down the dirtiest bathrooms I have ever encountered since returning to the states has been at WalMarts. Those never seem to be clean. At all.

  20. When we drove to North Carolina all the service stations were clean and well maintained, some were of ”German” standard. One in Georgia was absolutely lovely! With a small visitor center and leaflets, and flowers outside and beautiful trees.

    I say ”German” because when you travel in Europe the German highway restrooms are the best! Spotlessly clean, everything on sensors, very modern.
    And once when we were trekking on horseback, (sleeping in meadows and orchards, and after five days in hot weather without a shower you really are a grimy, smelly traveler), we came upon this very elegant, very posh small hotel, in a beautiful antique setting, and they treated us like honored guests. Sitting on the terrace with our horses ordering lunch. And the ladies bathroom I was taken to was a dream! Beautiful, elegant, colognes and deodorants and real fluffy towels, just for a loo. I had a really good clean-up and refreshing spraying party!

  21. The best restrooms i found were in Norway — hands down 🙂 That countryside is truly paradise on earth , and restrooms are spanking clean – atleats those we stopped at. ohh so clean …

    evryone who has a chance must go visit that place and maybe hike a glacier !!! of course it will empty out your bank balance 🙂 one of the most expensive places i visited.

    but worth every cent .

  22. Japan gets my vote for the cleanest restrooms. Saudi still has my vote as the worse restrooms. Even during my travels through Pakistan, India, Iraq, China and elsewhere the restrooms never entered the level of filth that I experienced in Saudi. ):

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