Monday, September 24, 2012

The Art of the Bucket Bath

Since the day I stepped off the plane 11 months ago, Malawi has been generous in her teachings to me. She has gifted me with many a lesson, sometimes subtly, but more often in an unexpected and rather intense manner.

In my time here I have learned pieces of a beautiful Bantu language, learned how to tie a chitenje, eat Nsima with my hands and ride a bicycle through a roundabout. I've learned the importance of acknowledging a fellow human being with a smile and a greeting and how to always be prepared for a power cut.

At my goodbye dinner in Ottawa, my friend Sara stood up and did a toast. 'I hope that everytime you bathe from a bucket, you think of your friends here in Ottawa.'

The table erupted in laughter and I chuckled along at her joke. A bucket bath?! I mean I was going to be living in the capital city!

Well folks, most of the world doesn't bathe using a shower and I have been inducted as a sometimes-member of that club.
I'm very lucky to be living in a place where we have water most of the time. This said, water outages aren't uncommon here. Sometimes the water goes out unexpectedly due to broken pipes. Sometimes the water board goes on strike.
Sometimes the water board goes on strike and then the pipe breaks because it hasn't had water going through it in a week. (That happened last month for a total of a week and a half without running water).

These outages have made me realize how much I take running water for granted. I always heard the expression that 'water is life' but only recently started to understand what that means.

We need water to prepare food, to drink, wash dishes, wash hands after using the bathroom, when you squish a mosquito on your elbow and want to wash it off, when you accidentally spill something on the floor, to make coffee in the morning... the list goes on.

I find myself becoming increasingly aware of the myriad of things that I use water for every time the water goes off.

One of the most important functions of water is obviously bathing, and you kinda have to bathe even if water isn't coming out of the faucet. But how to go about getting clean when there isn't a shower with a steady stream of water at your disposal?

The bucket bath.

I have learned how to bucket bathe through trial and error and find my technique constantly improving. After 9 days of practice during the water board strike/broken pipe saga, I thought I would share my new found skill. 

(These pictures were taken and sent to Sara so that she knows I think of her often. Sorry if you find them to be TMI)
Generally, the steps are as follows, if you have a better technique please let me know:

  1. Find water – I'm lucky that this process is relatively easy and does not involve walking a long way with a heavy bucket. For me it involves stocking up on jugs at the grocery store or going to the nearest working faucet (in my case at the backpackers down the road) and filling up.

  2. Heat the water – this isn't always possible but if you have electricity it makes the experience much more pleasant unless the outside temperature is over 100 degrees.

  3.  Identify water scooping mechanism. My favourite is a big plastic mug because it holds lots of water and can't break. Any other scoop is fine too as long as your mug isn't metal and your drain isn't 'leaking' electricity (oops learned that lesson!).

  4. Take the scoop and dribble water on yourself to get wet. This will help you suds-up with soap. Don't use too much water at this stage because you want to have enough to get the suds off.

  5. Soap up. Doing this everywhere in one go uses less water than doing each section individually.

  6. Trickle the water over the sudsy bits slowly and use your other hand to help rinse. The tricky bit? When you are washing your arms and armpits! 

  7. Think of your friends in Ottawa and feel grateful to be clean and have water!

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