This time a year ago I was peeing and pooping in a hole. I had my own little house chamber pot cleverly disguised as a plastic bucket. And I regularly took baths by using a few liters of water and pouring water over my head with a cup. It was the Peace Corps and I was in rural Rwanda. Indoor plumbing was a pipe dream (see what I did there), and I now know the limits of cleanliness.
Now I am back in the US, living the indoor plumbing and refrigerated air (or mechanically warmed air) dream. Except when it comes to remodels. There were a few things I hated about my little house on the prairie when I moved in. The bathroom was definitely one of them (poor design, inefficient flow, things not working properly, ect). I spruced it up with some paint, new fixtures, and such and called it a day. But I still hated that bathroom.
House renovations problems
Moving right along. Monday started the demolition of said bathroom and I have never in my life been so excited to see studs. Out came the sink and cabinet. Out came the misplaced stand up shower, and out came the wobbly toilet. Up came 1980’s era linoleum. I was a happy girl. The downside of all this is that off went the water supply as well.
As with every remodel ever, things don’t go exactly according to plan. On Tuesday instead of installing floors and a new toilet, backerboard for tile and new sheetrock had to go up. I’m usually more of a do-it-yourself kind of individual. But I knew that for this project, I’d need extra muscles and with extra muscles comes working in someone’s timeframe–which I do not like. I’m more likely to be tiling at 10pm that 10am, but others don’t necessarily appreciate my ‘time management’ skills and so it leads to the conundrum of work cycles.
Despite my extra help or perhaps because of it, it is now day 3 of the remodel and still no water. I am not complaining as the extra help is doing things that I didn’t think about doing, thus ensuring a better outcome in the end, but it does create a little bit of a problem. I spent Monday and Tuesday at a friend’s house happily using their toilet and sleeping away on the couch. But as the old saying goes ‘Fish and houseguests stink after three days’ and I love my friends. I’m (pretty sure) they love me so I did not want to become the smelly house guest.
And so I returned to the prairie despite not having access to running water or indoor plumbing. I was able to eat leftovers (no water required). I could drink the bottled water I purchased last week when Target so thoughtfully had it on sale. And I brushed my teeth without worrying about contracting cholera, dysentery, or giridia from the rain barrels I have placed thoughtfully around the house to catch rain run-off (usually used to water the plants, or the cats).
Flash forward to October 2019
We are having unusually hot weather for October (it is still 80 degrees at 10:30pm). I live on the prairie with way fewer neighbors than in Rwanda. This evening was a flashback to my previous life. I washed dishes with my roof water. I also put them in the dishwasher to sanitize when water comes back on. And I had a nice little sun-warmed bucket bath. At home. In the United States. Not while camping. And you know what, it was (mostly) enjoyable. My ‘important parts’ and hair are both squeaky clean. And as per usual, I am always amazed at how much filth comes off in the scrubbing. (I shouldn’t be amazed though. It’s 95+ degrees, and I’ve been cutting boards and sanding drywall. And wearing sandals.)
It’s rare that I miss Rwanda. I miss some of the people I met, but not the hardships of daily life. Here going without water for three days is a minor inconvenience. I know that I can hop into my car, go to the store, buy some and be done with it. Or stay at a friend’s house. Or go to the gym and use the pool (I also did ‘chlorine bathing’ in Rwanda). I could also get a hotel room. Most of those were options in Rwanda as well; they were just cost-prohibitive on a Peace Corps’ Volunteers budget. Not having water in Rwanda meant risking dehydration, catching one of the above mentioned bacterial infections, or possibly dying. It meant walking further to fill up a jerry can. Btw a full jerrycan of 20L of water weighs about 45#. Life without water in Rwanda was so much harder.
Today I can take a bucket bath on my porch and laugh about it. I know that by the end of the week, I’ll have a newly fully remodeled bathroom. I can go back to throwing dirty clothes in a machine, pressing a few buttons, and coming back an hour later to clean, clothes. No effort required on my part. Same for dishes. And same for me. I’ll no longer have to haul buckets of water around, delegate liters to each task, and pray for rain. Now while I do have a well and it won’t last forever without rain, it’s still light years better than catching roof water for all my water needs.
I’ll no longer have to worry about starting a fire to boil water, letting the water cool, then mixing in with non boiled water to achieve optimum bucket bath water temperature. I’ll no longer have to worry about the outside temperature (is it too cold to bath outside, should I just do it in the living room, thus giving the living room a good mopping along with me a good cleaning? These were actual decisions that needed to be made on a somewhat daily basis while living in Rwanda). Today I am grateful to live in an industrialized society where running water and indoor plumbing are the default. As always I am grateful for clean water.
Shout out to Green Day’s Good Riddance for providing inspiration for this post. So while I can say good riddance to plumbing issues enough time has passed that parts of my Peace Corps service really was the time of my life.