Saturday, June 20, 2015

Ode to the Bucket Bath

First, I set the large plastic bucket (approximately two feet wide and a foot tall) directly under the faucet. I turn on the spigot in the tub, and the water comes out as a trickle—not the normal strong rush of water that I was accustomed to in the USA. Since it is cold water, I walk to the other end of the house, retrieve the carafe of hot water from the kitchen, walk back to the bathroom, and pour in about one-and-a-half liters of hot water to mix with the gathering cold water within the green plastic bucket.

Once it has about four or five inches of water in the tub, I turn it off and slide the bucket to the far end of the tub. I climb into the tub naked, and get down on my knees, somewhat reverently. After all, this precious water (St. Lucia has been suffering from a drought recently) is going to cleanse my body and prepare me for my day's activities. Slowly I bend forward and dunk as much of my head into the water as possible. [It reminds me a bit of bobbing for apples at Halloween parties when I was a kid.]

After my head has been immersed, I get to work shampooing my hair. I rinse out the shampoo with a small tin cup, dipping it into the water and then pouring it over the back of my head. I must hold my head over the bucket so the water stays inside as much as possible. I am so grateful that I donated my long hair before I left so that it is quicker and easier to clean. Plus, I don't need to go through the same routine a second time using conditioner after the shampoo. I will definitely be keeping my hair short during my two years with the Peace Corps.

Then I get my soap and washcloth, stand up, and put my feet inside the bucket. I proceed to clean the rest of my body with the washcloth and then rinse off with my tin cup. It is very important to rinse off in such a manner as to retain water in your bucket. It is a slow and deliberate process.

My normal shower back home had become so routine that I could “do it in my sleep.” It was so easy to do the first thing each morning! I know I will gradually become accustomed to bucket baths, but for now it is a new experience, and it takes some thought early in the morning.

I had previously mentioned the importance of retaining as much water as possible within the bucket. Obviously some of it drips off without returning to the bucket, and thus just works its way down to the drain for the tub. However, the soapy water that remains in the big green bucket plays a vital role. Instead of simply turning the bucket over and allowing its contents to go down the drain, the big green bucket has a secondary role. All leftover bucket bath water goes out to the garden, to help the vegetables and other plants to survive the drought.

This reminds me of my years in the late 1980s working in the Office of Space Station at NASA Headquarters. One of the major systems that was being designed for the space station was known by the acronym ECLSS—as I recall, it stood for Environmental Control and Life Support Systems, but we just referred to it as “eckless.” It was ECLSS where I learned of plans to recycle “gray water” from showers and kitchen activities for other uses. It is ironic that using my leftover bucket bath in the garden, in this “low tech” environment, makes me think of high-tech solutions that are now orbiting above my head each day.

All in all, bucket baths are not bad—they just take a little getting used to. I appreciate that I'm doing my part to conserve precious water. When I signed up for the Peace Corps, I knew there would be sacrifices. Given that they sent me to a tropical paradise, it is altogether fitting that I face a few hardships.

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