Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pilgrim's Progress: Incarnation/Bathing

One of the reasons I wanted to come to Lui was to retrieve the nitty gritty of my body from the obsessive cleanliness of American culture. Every culture has different definitions but I've felt for years that we have carried this washing, sanitizing, this coverup of natural odors to a paranoid and unnatural extreme. Something is wrong when doctors tell us we're too clean, that we're preventing children from developing immunities to garden variety germs.

I grew up as a grubby little tomboy whose mother would laugh and say,"We all have to eat a peck of dirt before we die, anyway." Not that I'm dirty but there some things I just can't get that excited about.Cooking odors, for example. I discovered as a side benefit of being close to a complete vegetarian that my house smelled much better. Without meat grease, it's much easier to clean.

Don't get me wrong. I like hot showers and tub baths as well as the next one. I'd prefer a tile floor to a dirt one, a rug to a dirt floor but I can quite happily deal with dirty feet for a while. Do I enjoy sweating and smelling? Not particularly but it's been a while since that happened. (Consumer tip: nice organic deordorants don't make the grade here.) I'm glad to know that my body will still produce odors.

I've gone back to bathing twice a day the way I did in Venezuela. I feel better if I do. It's much easier to be a guest. John Noel, the compound manager, makes sure that the big iron cauldron is full of hot water twice a day. He makes a fire of sticks or bundles of grass. Steam rises off the water. I go get the blue plastic basin from the washing room and dip the hot water into it. There's also a jerry can of cool water nearby to add to the hot water. I learned not fill it too full because there's a high step into the washing room. Jim suggested filling the basin in the room. Debbie suggested as an alternative setting the full basin on the step first.

Once inside with my clothes hanging on the one hook (I don't take a change of clothing because there's really no place to hang it.) first I use the tin cup to pour water over my entire body to get it wet. Then I use Dr.Bronner's Lavender Castile Liquid soap as a shampoo, the extra suds under my arms etc. I use cake soap on my face. Then I scrub everything with my wash cloth. Then I rinse everything a couple of times with the tin cup. Then I dry myself off with my extra special technical towel which dries rapidly when I hang it on my mosquito net with clothespins.

A number of times I've done this in the dark resting my head lamp and my small flashlight on the high window ledge. It's kind of like Ray Charles shaving in the dark. I know where my body parts are and I can tell which soap by touch.

This time period has helped me reconnect with the simple minimum of how do things. I have a more intimate sense of my own body again. It's helped remind me how little I really need to be comfortable. Would I want to do this for a really long time? Probably not. It reminds me how much I don't need. Do I love my servomechanisms? My washer? My dryer? My dishwasher? My shower? Yes, but Lui has reminded I don't have to have them.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The process of slowing down enough to contemplate the process of bathing is a gift, as well. How often I go through the process and don't realize where I've been until I'm done. Hope you can savor the sermon preparation. Don't know if you should count on not preaching at the Cathedral, but you're right about being consulted. Prayers are with you. Peace, Mary R