Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Showers, Then and Now

There once was a bathroom in a small village in Thailand that I called mine. When I think about that bathroom, I have to take a deep breath and smile as I breathe out. My nose wrinkles just a bit. That was a long time ago, and I'm not sure if I could bathe in that bathroom as eagerly as I once did.

My bathroom was actually "our" bathroom, because I lived with a Thai family. While the Peace Corps gave me enough money to have my own house in my little village, I had two options in Fak Tha: the finest house in the entire village, with four rooms (three rooms too many!), or taking over the second floor of the house of one of the villagers. 

Choosing against opulence, I opted for the second.

The second floor of this villager's house was modest. I had the breezy upstairs area of house, with a sweet view of the low mountains and a space large enough to do yoga in. The bedroom was screened in, so I wouldn't have to worry about dengue- and malaria-filled mosquitoes chomping on me at night. But the second floor didn't have a bathroom, so I walked down the wooden stairs when I needed to one. 

The bathroom was a good size by American standards. It was tiled on the floor and up the walls with a pastel blue or green tile--I can't remember the exact hue, only the general one. The toilet was just a ceramic bowl in the floor, with two rimmed, ceramic ledges to remind users where their feet should be planted when they squatted to use it.

Attached to one side of the bathroom was a giant rectangle tub of sorts, built with concrete blocks, then tiled in with the same baby-colored hue. The tub was about three feet by five feet--pretty substantial, and came up to my waist. It was always full. 

Some Peace Corps Volunteers made the mistake of thinking this was a soaking tub, but our trainers advised us of this cultural faux pas and I knew what to do even the first time I entered this bathroom. After removing the pasin, or cloth that all modest Thai women used as a robe of sorts, and hanging it up on a rack next to my towel, I took the plastic bucket that always sat at the hefty rim of the tub, dipped it in the water and poured it on top of me.

No matter how hot it was in Thailand--and it was almost always hot in my little village--that first bowl full of water shocked me. It was always freezing, "refreshing" if I wanted to see the positive side. I washed my body, washed my hair, rinsed it all free of soap and shampoo, toweled off and covered myself with my pasin before going back upstairs to my own space to dress, sometimes throwing on some Prickly Heat powder to cool myself off a little more if it was a particularly hot day.

I think of this bathroom almost every time I step into my opulent shower now, decades later, in the current chapter of my life. I turn on the hot water and am so very thankful that I can linger in this warm respite from the hustle and bustle of my day. I realize I've lost an edge of toughness over the years, and I'm not sure if I could go back and take a bucket bath for two years straight again. But I've gained the appreciation for what I've got, and for that I'll always be grateful for that humble bathroom, thousands of miles away, a million experiences ago.


  1. I can sense the beauty of the place even in the starkness. We do take so much for granted here. What an extraordinary experience!

  2. Lovely slice! Your description is wonderful. I've made several trips short stay trips to Thailand and lived with the people in the villages and overnight in the Karin refugee camps. Sometimes our bathroom had a dirt floor, and instead of a "tub" we had one very large bucket of water with a smaller bucket floating in it--to use exactly as you described. In the mountains the water was so cold in the mornings that I "sponged." We'd set buckets in the sun to warm for an evening "shower" and to wash our hair.