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10/28 Bled Bathing (aka Bucket Bathing)

(Quick reminder: bled is the Tam and Arabic word for rural areas. This entry is not about gore, it's about life in the country.)

You ever heard this old joke? An optimist looks at a glass and says, "It's half full!" A pessimist looks at the same glass and says, "It's half empty!" A Peace Corps Volunteer looks at it and says, "Ooh, a bath!"

Yesterday morning, I took a bath.

Took a bath.

Three short, one-syllable words. It sounds so simple. Hard to imagine that it was an hour-long endeavor...

It starts with water.

Lots of water.

So I have to bathe either while the water is still running, generally between 9 and noon, or else I have to fill a bucket or two with water in the morning, and then cover it (to keep out the ubiquitous dust) and set it aside until I'm ready to bathe, some other time of day.

I usually just stick to the morning.

I fill up my two trusty kettles, then put them on to boil. My stove has four burners, so when I first got here, I would use two kettles, a stew pot, and a couscous pot...but about four months ago, one of my burners turned into a flaming deathtrap, so I don't use that one anymore, plus I've come to realize that the tiny teapot burner really doesn't work well for anything but tea.

So: two burners, each with a big (3.5L - almost a gallon) tea kettle.

When the kettle whistles, I empty it into a hammam bucket. Hammam buckets differ from ordinary paint buckets: they're made of thick rubber, not plastic, to withstand boiling water. To keep the water hot, I put a ceramic plate on top of the bucket and then drape a towel over that. Then I fill the kettle again, heat it again...

Repeat until the bucket is full, about 5 kettles of water. Then I refill each kettle one last time, and put them on to boil. Then I carry the bucket into the bathroom, make sure all toiletries are arranged nearby, fill a banyo (plastic basin) with cold water, and finally get all the clean clothes I want to change into and hang them on the bathroom door, so the steam from the bath will warm them (and so I won't have to go out into my chilly apartment all wet!).

When the final two kettles-full hit the boiling point, I carry both kettles into the bathroom and set them on the ceramic tile.

I put a small plastic stool into my biggest basin, a shallow banyo about 2.5 feet across and 6" deep. Then I pull the door closed and begin.

Using a big heavy-plastic cup (with a handle - looks kind of like a big mug), I mix bathwater in a tiny banyo. My usual ratio at the beginning of a bath is 3 scoops of boiling water from the hammam bucket to 2 scoops of cold water from the bathroom banyo. By the end of the bath, maybe half an hour later, the formerly-boiling water will have cooled enough that I use a 3:1 ratio of hot:cold.

Once the warm-but-not-boiling water is sitting in the pan (tiny banyo) next to me, I sit down on the stool, cramming my feet in around the stool legs, and pour a scoop of warm water over my head.

Why sit down? It conserves body heat, for one, and lets the water hit more parts of me as it falls down, for another. The water that I scoop over my heat, to wet my hair, will either run the length of my back or slide forward over my shoulders and pool in my lap. When you're "showering" with about 7 gallons of water, getting the most out of every drop is key.

Why cram my feet in with me? I learned through trial and error that keeping my feet covered in warm water is vital to my feeling warm during the bath. After all, whenever I'm not actively pouring water over my head, I'm just sitting in a small ceramic room, wet and naked. It gets cold. But if my feet are sitting in warm water, I feel better. Also, my feet have a hard life here - lots of sandaled walking over dirt paths covered in various kinds of manure - so I think soaking them in sudsy water is a good idea.

Why am I in a banyo at all, instead of just letting the water pour onto the ceramic tile floor and run down the drain? The bathroom was built to be half-shower, after all. Because the shower drain doesn't actually drain, it just lets the water pool until it evaporates. Eeeew. Also, by catching the water in the banyo, I can reuse it for flushing the toilet. I live in a desert country; just because I'm in the rainiest part of it doesn't mean I have the right to waste water.

So I'm crunched down in this basin, scooping water over my head. It takes 4 slow scoops to get my shoulder-length hair wet through. Then I rub in shampoo. If it foams up, I know that I only need to shampoo it once. If it stays unfoamed, I know that this washing is doing nothing but stripping the outermost coat of oil, and I'll need to do it again. So I rinse my hair with another 2-3 scoops, then do it again. After that's rinsed out, my body is pretty thoroughly wetted (except for my arms, which will get their own scoop of water), so I grab the loofah sponge and shower gel and scrub down. I'll then rub shampoo/conditioner into my hair (a pure conditioner is overkill), then rinse everything at once.

This usually takes about 80% of the water, which I've been steadily mixing between the hammam bucket and the coldwater banyo to maintain a good water temperature. Once I'm pretty sure everything has been scrubbed and rinsed at least once, I'll finally let myself stand up. I double-check the backs of my knees and anything else I might have missed while crunched down, then pour the rest of the hot water over my head, for a final rinse (and just because I really love and miss hot showers).

When the water smrn (is all used up), I grab the towel, dry off, and put on the clothes that are all within arm's reach. Only when I'm warm, dry, and clothed, do I open the door of my now-steamy-warm bathroom and face my 45 degree apartment.

And just like that, I'm all clean.

I've never liked wasting water, but I do enjoy hot showers. Most mornings, in the US, it took 5-7 minutes. This bled bathing takes at least an hour, from the time I fill the first kettle of water until I'm all clean. Is it any wonder I only "shower" every week or so?

1 comment:

  1. With an almost endless supply of water here in Canada, it sure makes you appreciate the fact we can have hot or cold water, tons of it, whenever we want. We do pay a fee for water, but not enough to deter us from using it without too much thought.


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