Next to Godliness

Or the fine art of the bucket bath


Mozambicans are very clean people. It is not uncommon to take two baths per day, when the water situation allows. I enjoy the new bathing schedule: a brisk bucket of cold water first thing in the morning wakes a person right up, and few things are more refreshing than a cool shower after a long, hot day.

Of course, running water and indoor plumbing are luxuries nigh unheard of in this part if the world. Most people don’t have even an indoor toilet, and the bathhouse is more often a separate outdoor structure. Baths as such are a rather different experience, and are taken from a bucket.


The Peace Corps makes taking a bucket bath into a Big Deal: “You’ll go overseas and everything will be different. You’ll have to take Baths From a Bucket.” I think it’s hilarious. The Peace Corps seems to see mountains where I see only prairie dog hills.

Here’s the thing: growing up in rural America, we took bucket baths. Not often, but occasionally. The thing about getting water from a well is that when the power goes out, the pump goes out; and when the pump goes out, there is no running water. So you make do, and for the three days before the power company repairs the downed line, you bring in water from the irrigation ditch to flush the toilets and to bathe (although not at the same time). That’s not any kind of hardship, per se. That’s just life.

That’s something I’ve realized in recent travels, and am reminded of frequently here. Life here is not easy, by my comfortably lazy American standards. Having to carry water to drink, having to launder clothes by hand, and yes, having to bathe from a bucket, are all things I am wont to resent for the time and effort they require. But that is not fair. People make their lives here, and they, unlike me, did not choose to live here. It may be hardship, yes, but it’s also life. And life carries on. I simply need to step back and remember that I am indeed lucky to be here.

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