My first morning in the village and someone decided I needed a bath. One of my considerate cousins took a towel and a tablet of Aesepso and led me to the bathroom which was a large windowless zinc roofed concrete room adjoining the pit latrine set back from the main building. I was confronted with a full bucket of steaming water to which was added a generous dose of dettol and told to bath.
I closed the door, immediately felt claustrophobic in the gloom, hung the towel on a peg and contemplated what to do. How does one use a bucket of steaming water to bath? It wasn’t big enough to climb into like a tub and it didn’t pour on you like a shower. There was no scoop. I was confounded. I put my hand into the water, it was too hot. But I had been told to bath so bath I will.
I couldn’t speak the language yet and was quite perturbed by the constant entourage of naked black children that waited for me outside every doorway including the bathroom door. I unenthusiastically emerged some 30 minutes later feeling somewhat cleaner. The bathroom was inspected; the fact that the bucket of water was still almost full but now dirty was noted and commented on with disapproval at how wasteful I was. I had dipped the towel in the water and scrubbed myself down eventually.
I learnt to admire and despise the way the natives use water. The way they would cup their hands to scoop it like a precious liquid without losing a drop while I couldn’t get a sip to my mouth without losing most of it, the way they could use a gallon of water to bath thoroughly while I always struggled to feel clean with two gallons. How they washed laundry and cooked painstakingly and efficiently on one tenth of the water that I used. Conservation was their way of life.
I thoroughly loathed staying with the various urban dwelling elite and middle class relatives my father used to send me to stay with that flushed their toilets once or twice a day only. They had WC’s and facets but no water. What was the point of that I always wondered. Some still used bucket toilets when I first visited them. At least the pit latrine in the village was kept clean and you peed in the bathroom, and the building was set back so the whole house didn’t stink, just a gazillion cockroaches that live in there to worry about.
Eventually they all realized their various urban water boards were never going to install or restore services and installed boreholes, water pumps, water storage tanks and pressure pumps. I could detect a hint of boastfulness when they announced they now had a borehole in their urban and or rural home or both. It became another status symbol, another acquisition to show off material success.
“We are the elite” they declared as they privatized water resources.