“So…how do I shower?” she asked, somewhat timidly, although understandably, based on the circumstances. She was peering into the bathroom where, dimly lit by a dull, solar powered, light bulb, stood a stall with a small drain. There was no shower head, no sink, no faucet of any kind. On the floor lay an orange bucket with a small, blue pitcher.
“You’re going to have to use the bucket,” was the reply.
My co-worker glanced back, eyes narrowing skeptically in disbelief. She thought we were joking. We stared back. After a moment or two she realized that we were serious, and accepting her fate, took the bucket and walked outside to get water.
Living in a remote African village brings a variety of obstacles. One of those is bathing. There is no running water. There is no water heater. And there’s no electricity to pump water up to a water tower. This leaves bucket baths assuming there are no convenient water sources, such as a lake, nearby. For those readers not familiar with this approach, let me walk you through the steps. Keep in mind there is no set standard because there are several techniques, so to each his own.
Before we begin, you will need several things, which are notably a bucket, a pitcher or cup (optional), a bar of soap, and any other regular bathing items you use (towel, comb, etc…).
5 Steps to Cleanliness:
- The first step to bathing is gathering your water. This may appear simple enough until you remember there is no source of running water. This leaves with you several options on how to obtain your water. Probably the best approach is to use rain water that has been gathered from the roofs into large, plastic barrels via gutter drains. However, in dry season you end up having to carry up water from the nearest source (usually a river or spring – not necessarily close by). Another option, depending on location, is pulling it up from a well. Whichever source you choose, expect the water to be dirty, or at the very least littered with bugs.
- After retrieving a source of water you are going to want it heated. This may come as a surprise to some readers because of the tropical heat. However, after a long day of dust, humidity, sweat and heat, a warm bucket bath really hits the spot. Consider it a natural relaxer. Not too hot, not too cold. The easiest way to get hot water is to heat a large pot of it outside on a wood fire. Although this is the quickest way to heat large amounts of water, it does take time, so be prepared to take your shower when the water is ready, not when you are. Planning well in advance can help in this stage. Getting the right temperature is obviously a matter of personal choice. I like to put a pitcher of boiling water in and then add progressively more pitchers of cold water until that the right temperature is reached.
- Finally, at the third step we can beginning the bathing process. Some people like to just splash water on themselves with their hands from the bucket. I find this approach works well for scrubbing your legs and such, but to get the head and shoulders a pitcher or cup is much more useful. The key at this stage is to rinse yourself completely while not wasting too much water (you’ll need it later).
- Then, as with any shower, you going to have to lather up. A bar of soap works much better in this situation than shampoo because it doesn’t create as many suds (back to the wasting water point).
- The final stage is to rinse off the soap. As mentioned above, it is important to have saved enough clean water at this point because perhaps one of the worst feelings in the world is to still be soapy and have no water left to finish the job. While pouring with the pitcher you’ll have to be scrubbing the soap off with your other hand (kind of like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time). It’s a refined skill learned over time. After getting off the soap you get to proceed onto the most blissful moment of the bath. This is where you take whatever water is remaining in the bucket and pour it over you.
*On a final note, it’s often courteous to go fill the bucket for the next person who will be showering, although they may prefer to choose how hot it is.
In essence, the bucket bath is an opportunity for adults to become children again by splashing in the bathtub.
I hope that this has been enlightening read to those who have never bathed with a bucket before. At the very least I hope it forces you to rethink your bathing experience, whatever that is.