From Meghan Furton
Wow! Kotagiri has to be the most colorful place in the world; from the lovely red earth and vivid green tea leaves lining the steep mountain sides, to the tightly packed pastel houses and shrines, to the lovely sparkling saris and even the less lovely but occasionally sparkling rubbish lining the roads—the whole place is a feast for the eyes. The other senses have not been neglected, either: The clean mountain air, the barking dogs and singing birds, and the delicious food all factor into our first impressions of our new classroom.
After two weeks, it is clear that I have a lot more learning to do than what is discussed in the nightly readings. Here is a glimpse of the normal routine here that was anything but normal to me: how bathrooms are used in Kotagiri.
Showers, I believe, are sacred things. A time to blissfully waste water in steamy comfort. If you have long hair (as I do) they even serve an important function. But at the Highfield hostel in Kotagiri, we use buckets instead of shower heads.
Here are the steps I follow in the morning to take a bucket bath:
- Fill up the metal bucket about half full with steaming water, which mercifully comes from a tap in my bathroom. Add some cold water to your bucket so that it is comfortable to touch.
- Use the small white scoop to pour water over your head so that your hair and body are wet (about three scoops).
- Quickly, before you get too cold or too dry, rub shampoo in your hair and soap over your body.
- Rinse off your soapy hands in the sink.
- Use the small scoop (about four scoops) to rinse off. This involves standing in the middle of the bathroom and splashing water all over the floor.
- If you have enough water left, you can apply conditioner to your hair and rinse again. But hurry up! That water won’t stay hot forever.
Congratulations! Your hair and body are clean, and you’ve recovered from the surprising chill of being wet up in the mountains. But what about your clothes? Here is how we wash our clothes without the aid of machines and dryers:
- Fill up the large plastic bucket with a mix of hot and cold water in from the bathroom taps.
- While the water is still flowing, add about a table spoon of hand-washing powder (or a bit if RIN bar, or whatever soap like substance you have).
- Dump your dirty clothes into the bucket, pump your arms up and down to thoroughly combine clothes, water, and soap. It feels a bit like kneading wet, sudsy dough.
A digression, for all of you skeptics out there: moving the water quickly through the pores in your clothes is how dirt particles are removed. There is no witchcraft going on in the machines, but that which can be recreated with hands. Imagine squeezing water out of a kitchen sponge to clean it: the high velocity of the water through the material causes shear forces on any particles stuck to the sponge, overcoming friction and transporting the particles away…
- Leave your clothes to soak in the soap for about five minutes, and then knead them again.
- Dump the dirty, soapy water out of the bucket into the sink or drain. Watch out! Your water-leaden clothes are quite heavy.
- Refill the bucket and clothes with clean water, knead, and dump. Do this about three times until the water you pour out of the bucket is somewhat clear. You don’t want a bunch of soap residue on your clothes, which could irritate your skin.
- Finally, hang your clothes to dry in the glorious sunshine.
Okay, okay, hand washing clothes isn’t such a challenge. And who doesn’t love slipping into sun-warmed shirts and pants? But have you ever considered life without toilet paper? Yep, the plastic bucket and small scoop are back.
Besides toilet paper, I had always taken for granted the MEN and WOMEN symbols that denote restroom gender back home. But here, the familiar symbols are nowhere to be found. In this public bathroom on the road between Highfield and Keystone campus, the unfamiliar Tamilian script leaves me clueless:
On Keystone campus, the bathrooms are marked with male and female symbols:
These abstract images, where the woman is denoted by a bun in her hair, are a relatively recent phenomenon in India. The use of hair styles to differentiate gender makes me wonder about the triangular skirt we are so familiar with. What do buns and triangles have to do with women, really?
Both the beautiful script and interesting clay tablets shame our uniform stick people. This presents a toss-up between what is fun to look at and what is easy to understand—between what is creative and what is regulated. India proves that even going to the bathroom can be an artistic experience. Learning here, in general, comes from a much more organic, community-centered place than the institution of grades and standardized tests I am used to.
One last comment on bathrooms: the porcelain thrones themselves are different. I am learning the difference between the Indian and Western toilets, but this process is a little easier on us at Keystone… they have both!
Even after such a short time at the NFLC, my content western eyes have been opened to an entirely new view on everyday life—the bathrooms are only a small part and only the beginning. I can’t wait to meet the person I have become after 16 weeks here!