We have a Western-style bathroom here. But that’s all it is…Western-style. It doesn’t function like a Western bathroom at all.
The water inside the house comes from a well outside. Every morning, the first person up and around turns on the pump for the well (simple flip of a switch), which fills up a tank, which feeds water into the house. Dog nyaam we suppa if light go weh fi few day (Jamaican patois translation: we’re up a creek without a paddle if we don’t have electricity for a few days) because the pump won’t work so the tank won’t refill so our water in the house will deplete. Thank God, we haven’t had that problem so far.
Not counting the rain that is thankfully no longer coming through the roof and our drinking water, which we buy, the only water in the house is in the bathrooms. We always keep the tap in the bathtub on because it runs very low and weak and keeps the bathtub filled with water. Why, do you ask? Why do we need the bathtub to always be filled with water? Because that is the water that we use to bathe and to flush our Western-style toilet.
First, our baths.
We bathe by “bucket showers” while standing in the middle of the bathroom, not in the tub. This means that we use a small-ish container with a handle to scoop water out of the bathtub and “shower” over ourselves. The water runs down a drain in one corner of the floor.
My bathing routine begins in my room with me wrapping myself in my towel (only women live here now so I can walk to the bathroom in my towel), grabbing my bathroom kit (plastic container with my shampoo, conditioner, face wash and soap, and my bath rag that I tuck in there just before I head out), slipping on my bathroom slippers (like you used to do at summer camp) and heading to the wilds of the bathroom. Once I get in there, I remove my towel, put it on the closed toilet seat (that I cleaned like nobody’s business during my cleaning frenzy), set down my bathroom kit on the back of the tub (which I also cleaned during the cleaning frenzy) and say my bathroom prayer: “Lord, please don’t let me drop anything inside here today. Not my towel, not my rag, not my soap, nothing, Lord.” I mean, sure, the bathroom is a thousand times cleaner than when I just got here, but still, there was years’ worth of who knows what in there.
Then I do my bucket shower, which I adapted to quite easily; it takes me 10 to 15 minutes. Afterwards, I re-wrap myself in my towel, grab my kit, squish my way back to my room in my wet bathroom slippers and the rest is normal.
As for the toilet.
As I said, it’s Western-style, which means it looks like a Western toilet but doesn’t function like one. That’s because it doesn’t flush and we can’t throw tissue down there or it will stop up the line. Yup, all tissue goes in the garbage. You heard me right. I knew that before I came here because they tell us these things ahead of time. I wondered how I would adjust to that but I have. No, it’s not unsanitary and it doesn’t smell at all. I don’t know how come but there you have it.
To my anam cara: I knew about this bathroom business ahead of time but I didn’t tell you because I knew you would worry about where I was going. I figured telling you after I adjusted to it would be the best way to spring it on you, so…surprise!
The bathroom sink is totally non-functional and serves as a stand for the bathroom mirror, which is old and foggy. I didn’t clean that too much during the great cleaning frenzy because I felt like my efforts were better applied elsewhere. I gave it a cursory scrub and threw some water at it…end of story.
My new bathroom routines have made me very water conscious. The other day I was having my bath and I wondered how much water I’m using now to have quite a refreshing bath compared to what I normally use while standing under a running shower. I estimate that I probably use less than half of what I do in a regular shower. And I come away just as clean and feeling just as fresh. I’m a little more unsure about the toilet comparison since I have no idea how much it normally takes to flush a real Western toilet. I know exactly how much it takes to flush our Western-style toilet.
I understand that several of our students who are from lower income families don’t have toilets in their homes. So when they use our bathroom, they just pee on the floor like they do at home, throw water on it to wash it down the drain and they’re done. I use a lot of disinfectant in there. Don’t take this to mean that Acehnese people don’t have indoor running water and flushing toilets, because many do. We just don’t have those things here at the centre and some of the poorer families that we deal with don’t have them either. I can’t speak for anywhere that I haven’t been to, which is most homes in Aceh!
On a side note about water conservation, even in the kitchen, I have a new consciousness about water. Our “kitchen” is outside at the side of the house. I don’t consider it to be a functioning kitchen. The dishes and cutlery are on a dish stand, there’s a pipe with running water and a table with a basin set under the pipe that serves as our sink; the well is there too. We never have more than a couple of dishes or bowls or mugs to wash at any time and the pipe there runs pretty slowly so we tend to get stuff washed with relatively little water.
Anyway, back to the bathroom. I had to do some bathroom-related mental adjustment when I got here, but not as much as you would think, since I knew what to expect. I think this bathroom experience helps me to appreciate even more the luxuries that I’ve been used to. I hope that I’ll never take a hot shower, a flushing toilet or a working sink for granted again.