I snagged that headline from another Samaritan’s Purse Post Resident who came to Nepal the year before us. When we knew we were moving to Nepal I began combing the blogosphere for blogs of Nepalis, ex-pats in Nepal, or anything Nepal in general. The other PRP physician had posted about winter in Kathmandu and how the daily shower had taken a back seat. That line made me chuckle. It’s like a backpacker, traveler or college kid mantra, isn’t it. I’ve lived under that rallying cry at times in my life. I think my college roommate and I may have had a little competition going at one point. Not being overly concerned about conventional ideas of cleanliness, missing the morning shower was not a deterrent in moving to Nepal.
I know ideas of cleanliness mean different things in different cultures. We Americans tend to be over the top sanitizers, chemically treating every surface. On the other hand there are cultures where the connection between hazardous waste and water purity hasn’t been made yet, so in those places clean means something different. Nepal in general is a very clean country. People have a similar sense of hygiene and the constant cleaning and sweeping, which is part of Hindu worship, keeps the place pretty tidy too.
Avoiding the daily shower in Kathmandu has nothing to do with personal hygiene or cultural meanings of cleanliness and everything to do with the fact that it is freaking cold in Nepal in the winter.
The daily shower loses all power to entice you when it entails undressing in an unheated house and standing naked in a stone room. It takes several days to even work up the courage to fully undress. So those days are already shot for a shower. It is ok changing clothes where you can remove one piece at a time and replace it quickly but the vulnerability of bearing it all to the cold is just too much. The daily shower further looses appeal when you are not assured of its warmth. A shower might be ok with warm water, but this little box on the wall with a gas flame, does not produce warm water, it produces scorching, steaming, smells like something is burning water, with no way to temper or regulate it. The daily shower is particularly unappealing when it entails alternating between standing in boiling water or shivering in a dark, cold, stone room. I’ve developed a little scrub/rinse ditty that I sing to take my mind off the actual shower experience, and go to a happy place till the whole business is over. It used be a shower was my happy place, a couple of alone minutes each morning to wake up, clean up and get ready for the day. Not anymore.
I’ve spoken to a couple of people about it, Nepali and bedeshi both. I’ve attempted to bring it up in casual conversation, not as a reflection on my hygienic uncertainty, but more of a “Hey you have a hot water heater right? Hows that working out for you?” sort of thing. The responses were reassuring, nobody, Nepali or bedeshi, seems to be enjoying a daily shower in Kathmandu, even if they take one. It is universally acknowledged that a daily shower is all around uncomfortable and quite unnecessary in Kathmandu in the winter months.
Though not daily, when showering does happen, I feel somewhat accomplished. Heroic even. It is as if, despite the odds, I am clean. It may not be the warm, comfortable clean feeling of a daily shower, but the frozen, fresh feeling of a Kathmandu winter shower. And that feeling is enough to last me couple days, at least.
So tomorrow morning, I will again be grateful for something I have taken for granted… withhout a daily morning shower…that’s PIPING hot…i would be quite cranky. :)