Splish splash…I was takin’ a [bucket] bath

Splish, splash, I was takin’ a [bucket] bath
Long about a Saturday night, yeah
A rub dub, just relaxin’ in the tub
Thinkin’ everythin’ was alright
Well, I stepped out the tub
I put my feet on the floor
I wrapped the towel around me and I
Opened the door……………………………Bobby Darrin
It has been 53 days since I have felt hot water on my naked skin. It will be another two weeks until I’m back in Kigali at the nunnery with the hot water. In these 53 days, I have taken approximately 30 bucket baths of cold water.  I do not enjoy this, but as my host family does not have running water,  asking them to light a fire and boil some water seems a bit too presumptuous, cold water is my only option.  Therefore, I usually bathe in middle of the day, when it’s hot, or after having done exercise so that the cold water is not so jarring.  So how exactly does one bathe in a bucket.

Tools Needed:

  • 1 Bucket
  • 1 cup [anywhere from 8-16oz will do]
  • Soap of choice
  • Shampoo of choice
  • Flip-Flops
  • Non-electrical lighting
  • Towel and washcloth

Every morning, my alarm goes off at 6:30am. Resistance is futile as the world around me is already buzzing although resist I try.  I finally pull myself into action about 6:50, and by action I mean pull on presentable clothing and try to flatten my hair which has taken on the appearance of someone who has stuck one’s finger in an electric socket. Usually a cap-ful of water does the trick. I grab breakfast, which if I am lucky, is a boiled egg and fruit, and if I’m not, bread. At 7:15am, I leave for language class.  It’s about a 30 minute walk if I don’t walk too fast, and I try not too, because if I do, the back of my neck will get all hot and sweaty.  Before 8AM.

I go about my day, trying to be slow and deliberate, trying not to sweat. Once again, resistance is futile, and sweat happens. Once again, if I am lucky, I return home about 5:30pm.  There is still daylight.  I gather my supplies and head to the bathing room.  I like to get in before dark for two reasons:  1. The mosquitos start to come out at dusk, and I’d rather not have my naked body be their dinner. 2.  When the sun set, it gets dark. Really dark, and my solar-charged lamp is a poor match for the African night.

Getting ready to do the deed

Gather the aforementioned tools and head into the room.  Most times, I am lucky to find a half-full jerry can of water–which is approximately 10L; usually, though, it’s more like 1/4 full–so 5L—slightly more than a gallon of water. Strip naked and hang clothes over the door and towel on the long nail that has been crudely pounded into the concrete wall.

My usually method with the limited water is such:

Fill my bucket with about 1-2 inches of water.  Fill my cup full.  Take my soap and washcloth and wash my face first.  Somehow, it seems that if my face is clean, the the rest of my will be too.  I use the cup to rinse out the washcloth that I used on my face. Every.Single.Time I am amazed by the amount of dirt I see in the cup.

Next I take the cup of somewhat dirty water and pour it on my head.  It’s brutal. It’s always colder than I anticipate it will be, and the tendrils of water that escape down my back are much much colder than the cup I’ve just dumped on my head.  But I’m strong. I power through.  I get the shampoo and lather up.  It feels so good. Then another cup, sometimes two to rinse the shampoo from my head.

At this point in time, I am sufficiently wet from the head dump that no more water is needed other than to rinse.  I soap up, starting at the shoulders and working my way down.   I make sure to really clean the pits and my chest… I have a dream that one day, my back will get clean too, but in the LAND OF BUCKET BATHS, it will remain just that–a dream.  I take two half cup-fuls of water and pour one over each shoulder.  Soapy residue makes its way down my body.

This process usually takes approximately three minutes.

With your torso cleaned, things start to get interesting. It’s time to address things DOWN THERE, and DOWN THERE requires more soap.  Lots of walking + hot, equatorial sun =  a thriving home for bacteria, and we do not WANT that.  So more SOAP.  And more water.  Cleaning the Caboose is the final crucial area. It’s difficult, but you’ll always be happy you did so.

The final check

I do a once over just to make sure there is no soapy residue hiding in any valleys or crevices. This takes approximately 30 seconds.  And finally, I wash my feet.  I’m amazed at the amount of dirt my primary mode of transportation collects.  While I am mentally aware of the fact that is is DUST season, I am visually aware of the fact as well by the end of my bucket bath.

On a thorough wash day, including conditioning my hair [I do this once a week], the process from stripping naked to putting on clothes again takes less than 10 minutes.

Bathing becomes just another chore to get done, not something to enjoy.

Bucket bathing isn’t all that bad, you tell yourself as you walk back into your room.

Then it is time for bed, and in another 24 hours, the entire process is repeated again.



One Comment Showing 50 most recent
  1. Barbara Jones

    I have had to do that before but I believe I had more water.

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