Friday, December 10, 2010

Gettin’ My Clean On

When living in another country, simple daily activities have a way of morphing on a person.

My first host family (first three nights only, at PCHQ) had a shower, but no way of heating the water.  So, we took very brisk showers.  The kind where you steel yourself in advance, hold your breath, and jump under the water to wet yourself.  Quickly exit, scrub with all the necessary soaps, and jump back in to rinse as rapidly as possible.  I can tell you, this method doesn’t go through a whole lot of water. 

My Sumpango host family (all of training) had a calentador (heater) on their shower head, which is a device that heats the water as it exits the pipe and falls onto the showerer, by running an electrical current through the water just before dispensing it.  The temperature is essentially controlled by changing the water pressure; more water, cooler temperature, and vice versa.  So, this is a much more comfortable showering experience, but to get the desired temperature, I need to sacrifice a lot of water pressure.  Sometimes this means I get out and discover after my hair has dried that not all of the shampoo/conditioner made its way back out.

Those who don’t have showers in their home tend to use a bucket bath.  The process involves heating a bucket of water on the stove (usually wood fired, but sometimes gas), mixing with cooler water to taste, and splashing the water on oneself with a small bowl.  This is another method that makes it clear how little water we actually need to get clean.  Makes me cringe to think how long I took to shower back in my teenager years. 

Since I have landed in a pretty indigenous area, I have the luck to experience a variation on the bucket bath called the temascal.  This is a small hut used as a sauna.  Rather than huddling in a bathroom (or courtyard) somewhere, we crawl (yes, really crawl...clutching our towels around us...oh how I wish I had a bathrobe!) into the temascal where a fire was lit hours before.  Usually there is some sort of sweet smelling herb thrown in as well, and water thrown on the hot rocks for humidity.  Within the temascal we have a bucket of hot water, one of cold, and a smaller basin where each user mixes to taste.  I strategically place myself under the peak of the roof to be able to sit more or less upright and do my washing by candlelight or headlamp (it's always after dark by then).  

Me crouching in the doorway.  It's an awkward waddle in and out.  Elkin just likes mugging for the camera.  Most of the huts I see are made of adobe and ceramic tile roofs, but my family did theirs out of block and lamina.  

Some of the herbs just inside the door (the fire was freshly lit at this point).  The floor is concrete, but they set boards on the ground as well... maybe for drainage?

The bench, the hot bucket (near) and cold bucket (far) with the fire and hot stones between them.  The green bowl is what we use to toss water on ourselves.  

Some family members go in together, but I’m a solo bather.  I also am usually last in line so the room has cooled somewhat before I enter, because I’m not a huge sauna person and don’t like sweating as I leave the shower.  On the other hand, since we have no heating in the house and it gets into the 40s and 50s at night, it’s a nice way to heat my core every now and again.

Now, I get the temascal experience maybe once or twice a week, but I’m working in agriculture.  So for days I’m digging and planting, I have worked out a deal with our neighboring aunt to get access to her calentador shower next door so long as I pay the difference in the electricity bill.  The first time I stepped into the shower I was amused and exasperated to find the shower head exits the wall at nose height for me.  The combination of crouching awkwardly and pitiful water pressure has kept this from being a really popular option so far.  Maybe I’ll work out a way to do bucket baths at my little cottage in the future.  

This calentador has a tube hanging down with a little nozzle at the end.  I don't want to use it, but it thwaps me if I don't get it completely coiled and out of the way.  If I coil too tightly, it comes off the shower head altogether and goodbye water pressure.  I took this photograph standing normally... 
No shower curtain!  This leaves my change of clothing and towel somewhat damp after a shower... I could remedy this but I'm not sure I'll be using it enough for it to be worth it.  

1 comment:

  1. Hi Beth,

    So fun to be updated on your life via the blog. Looking forward to hearing more. Hope you maintain your excitement and love for the everyday adventures. We miss you in the states!