Yebo - Joey and the Deltones

In a way, this song kind of represents me at my best. It is a snapshot of me at my most idealistic, dreamy, and hopeful.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Infamous Bucket Bath

Did you ever go bobbing for apples? I always thought it was a rather silly concept - one is expected to unlock their jaws as much as possible to wrap his or her teeth around not a delicious piece of candy or chocolate, but rather around a spherical medium sized piece of fruit, without the use of one's hands, and on top of all this, you are supposed to be blindfolded during the process.

I'll take things that are a waste of time and hurt my jaw and frustrate me to no end and leave me hungry for 200, Alex.

Now, imagine that same small bobbing for apples bucket, fill it up only half as much as you would to bob for apples, and bathe your entire body in it. Serious. This is the method of bathing used in rural South Africa, as well as in not so rural South Africa. But before I go on to what a pain it is for us shower-addicted foreigners to get used to, I will say that the bucket bath is rather effective in it's own endearing and frustrating little way.

When I first arrived at my homestay, I was actually very surprised to see that my host family had in their bathroom a medium sized bath that I was to use for my own bodily cleansing. At first I breathed a sigh of relief, but the relief didn't last too long. My host father showed me outside where I was to fill a large metal bucket with water, and start a fire to heat up the water. The process to bring such a large quantity of water (probably about 8 gallons or so) to a boil takes considerably long - about an hour to an hour and a half, during which time you can't just leave to do other things, but have to tend to the fire and keep the flames high and the coals hot. There was a lack of dry wood in the yard, and so many times I had to burn old and dried out cowpies, which do not have a pleasant smell when burned, especially not in large quantities. The metal bucket is ashy black, and if you touch any part of it with your hands or clothes, they turn instantly black. So in actuality, no matter how dirty you are before you bathe, you get twice as dirty just preparing the water for your bath.

This boiled water is poured into the tub (don't forget to stop up the drain as I had to be reminded, or you lose all your hot water - that was dumb of me), and then you get another large bucket of cold water from the tap to give your self a warm bath. The problem with having a medium sized tub to bathe in is that even with 2 large buckets of water, in the end, you only have about 2 inches of water to actually bathe in.

It was still winter time during my first bathing experience, and because the houses are made of mostly cement here, there is no heat and no insulation, so it's COLD in the house in the mornings, evenings and nite. I shivered as I climbed into the tub and soon realized I'm about 10 inches to big to lay down in the tub flat. That's ok. I crunched up a bit and started rolling around on my back and stomach as best I could to wet my body.

I was instantly frozen.

My hands were shaking as I reached for the shampoo - everyone suggets to wash your hair first - this was something I should have done before I soaked myself from head to toe. Rinsing my hair out was ripe with difficulties - I was so glad I didn't have my long hair anymore. Many girls got sick of their long hair too, and about 4 or 5 of them have since shaved their heads.

I soaped up as best I could, and repeated the rolling process, which is extremely uncomfortable in such a small space, and is a very humiliating process, even when by yourself - having body parts flopping around, getting caught behind your back or under your body, knocking your head against the side of the tub, having your ass up in the air, and all the while shivering and freezing in the cold winter air.

I used this medium sized tub method for about 3 or 4 weeks, and then got sick of the process. I gave up bathing for about a 10 day stretch, and then found my family had a small bucket I could use to have my first official "bucket bath". I also gave up the medium sized bath after what I thought was an obvious sign: one evening I poured the water into the tub and left for 10 seconds to get undressed and I came back to find a rather large cockroach had dropped from the ceiling into my bath water, and drowned instantly. I removed the cockroach, bathed, and told myself, "I think I'll stop here."

For my first official bucket bath, there was no outside fire involved. I boiled water in the kettle, and filled the bucket about halfway with cold water fro the tap, so I now had warm water again, but now it was about 5 or 6 inches deep instead of 2. I then had to think back to our first week here when current volunteers described different methods used for the bucket bath. Some buckets are big enough to kind of sit in. Mine is not. Therefore, the following methods seem to be the most commonly used.

There is the lean method, where you kneel on the floor next to your bucket and splash your body with water, soap up, and splash to rinse off as best you could. There is the stand-up method, where you use a wash cloth to wet yourself, soap up, and then use a cup or some such device to pour the water over your body to rinse off, trying your best not to spill too much water outside the tiny bucket. Then there's the dip and dangle method which is just as much fun as it sounds. You put your feet in the bucket, squat down, dip and dangle, and wash as best you can.

I have found that a combination of the lean method and the dip and dangle method works best for me. Although with these methods, I am only able to wash the main problem spots - hair, face, feet, crotch, and armpits. After those areas, the water is pretty much filthy beyond filthy, especially if you haven't bathed in 2 or 3 days, as is often the case with myself.

As I've mentioned before, as frustrating and annoying as this whole process is, it is effective enough to get clean.

But I have already made up my mind to build a shower in my next home.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Lack of info, lack of burgers

We have all been very busy the last few weeks. Most everything for us had been leading to yesterday, when our site assignments were finally revealed to us. In short, I am very happy with my site description, and I will have the chance to explore my site starting next week. So how does one keep busy for weeks on end with no access to the information super highway or a cell phone? I found out it is possible, and many times it is preferable. Radio has been heard rather infrequently in my experience here so far. Another obvious entertainment option is he good ol' Television set.

In my home here, there are two TVs. One is in the parent's room. I don't go in there. The other is in the lounge, but the only programming it receives is all-Jesus-all-the-time type programs. Pat Roberts, faith healers, pastors in Africa yelling at the top of their lungs about this and that. My host father loves it, and when he is home, he will watch that TV for hours on end. If you know me at all, you know that is something I don't choose to surround myself with, and so as a result, I don't watch TV here. Many other trainees have settled into a nice evening routine with their families. They eat dinner in front of the TV maybe around 7:00 or so, watch the news, and then at 8:00, the South African Soap Opera comes on - "Generations" it is called. I have not seen any of it, but many people seem to be getting quite addicted to it.

Because I haven't been settling down in front of the TV or Radio, I truly have no idea at all as to what on earth is happening on earth. This more than anything has been a tough thing to deal with - the complete lack of access to information and news from around the world. However, it is not something I notice all the time. It comes in spurts - maybe I'll hear a soundbyte about an American popstar and I'll think back to home when I would open the paper in the morning, and skip past that whole celebrity section in Newsday, looking for a headline and story I actually want to read. Or I'll come across a picture of my cousins currently serving in Iraq, and ask myself, "What has happened in the past month and a half since I've left?" The whole idea of being isolated and cut off from all sorts of news is completely foreign to those of us who live in the developed world. If the TV or Radio isn't turned on somewhere, then we're usually on the internet where there are updates my the minute on countless sites about all sorts of things you both want to and never want to hear about. If we skip the internet for a day, the next morning, most of us will wake up and one of the first things we will do is ge the paper and catch ourselves up on anything we may have missed.

So what's better or worse? No information coming in? Or what can be viewed by some to be a complete overload of information? In my own personal experience, I like the overload. But I can easily see how in places like rural South Africa, news is something that is not considered to be a priority, or even a necessity. Despite the fact that I have wanted to know what has been going on every now and then, it has been wonderful for my mental health to not be concerned about all the major happenings in America and around the world. I have been able to focus completely on myself, my surroundings, my short and long term goals, and most importantly, my attitude and my feelings as they develop and changed each day here. Things will only get more intense as I get to site, and start the whole adjustment process over again, and so it's great to be able to reflect appropriately on the day's events rather than getting distracted by or getting lost on the internet or TV.

As was mentioned in my last entry, the food that we've had access to here has left much to be desired. We do have some very good meals every now and then, but for the most part, it is a struggle to feel satisfied after eating. This is especially true at lunch time.

It was for this reason, that we were all very happy to have the opportunity to go out for lunch one afternoon at the only local restaurant in our town. We had seen the menu on a Thursday, and planned on dining out on the following Tuesday afternoon. On the whole, the menu looked very good, and we were all very excited to be a) not eating ANOTHER peanut butter sandwich for lunch and b) supporting the local restaurant by dining within their four walls.

I was excited because this would be the second time in three days that I would have the chance to eat a cheeseburger. The first burger was very much a let down. We had put together an American style BBQ and cooked burgers, hot dogs and sausages. Now, my burger was a let down because it tasted like a hot dog. If I had wanted to eat something that tasted like a hot dog, I would have had a hot dog. I was disappointed. So here was my chance to have a decent cheeseburger, to make up for the one that tasted like a hot dog. I was one of many who ordered a cheeseburger. After waiting about a half hour for the small restaurant to get everything out to us, we began to dive in to our cheeseburgers (some with bacon!) only to realize that every single cheeseburger was lacking the actual burger.

The roll looked very nice with the lettuce and tomatoes and cheese... but not as nice as it would have looked with a burger. Apparently the restaurant thought that everyone who ordered a cheeseburger had meant they wanted a cheese sandwich. A cheese sandwich, we all noticed, was on the menu in addition to the cheeseburger. So we didn't really know what to think. I imagine most of us were glad we didn't order the hamburger. What would they have given us? A ham sandwich? Just bread? It really is anyone's guess. They threw us all a small piece of steak to try and correct the situation - they didn't have any ground beef at the time. I watched as my friend John took his first bite into his steakcheeseburger. He clamped his jaw down on the small mass of miscellaneous items and went to bite thru and pull away...... and actually got stuck. His first bite lasted about 12 seconds, until he could finally get his teeth all the way thru the meat. I don't know how long he chewed on the wad in his mouth until he could actually swallow it, but it made for a good hoot.

That's about all for now. I really appreciate your comments. They make me smile a good bit.

I'll be back later on. Take care....