Based on an entry from winter 2007, this is one of my favorite stories from my Peace Corps service in Moldova. In conversation this week, the idea was expressed that relearning a basic task (such as bathing or washing your clothes) occurs not only overseas, but in simple domestic tasks like preparing a salad the way your in-laws prefer or learning how to navigate public transportation in a new city. It’s not that one has never made a salad before, but has never made this salad before.

We all encounter daily incidents that make us appear incapable of basic human tasks, but this entry reminded me nicely that it’s often simply a matter of realizing that even the most basic tasks are culturally (and economically) affected, rather than as a symptom of some lacking human intellect. Bucket bathing, as the chosen example, is actually a skill that would save money and resources for those who gave it a chance. After reading this, I challenge you to see just how little water you could get away with using. I suggest you give a gallon a go first!

Photo from

December 15, 2007

I have bathed IN the bathtub! Tuesday night, we put the space heater/radiator in the room for an hour or so to heat the room up a bit, which of course I unplugged before bathing. There’s no door, just a curtain, so the tile floor was still like ice. A wood board was placed over the middle of the tub in order to hold the bucket of hot water, metal basin, and my toiletries. I think the idea was that I could wash my hair OVER the metal bowl on the plank and then easily dump it in the tub, but that big white bathtub was so tempting. So I stripped down and stepped in. It was cold, but what a natural joy it was to pour warm water over my head and have it pour over my entire body. No louffah, no wood floor – the top of my head, my shoulders and neck and back all had water rushing over them!

I stood up to soap myself down, and I don’t remember when it happened but somehow I slipped and slid noisily down the bathtub, clanging the water cup behind me and knocking the bucket’s lid with my feet, ending up with my feet up in the air and my chest under the wood plank! It didn’t hurt; it was funny. I was actually just embarrassed at the noise and hoped my host mama wouldn’t coming running in to see what happened. Though, of course, it’s lovely that she’d care! So I sat from then on. I could pour water over my face without it getting on the floor. I could wash my hair with my head right-side-up! Sometime during my bath, someone phoned for me. “Are you taking a bath? I’ll tell them to call back in half an hour.” I love that she did not only tell them they should call back in half an hour, but also that I was in the bath tub.

It’s been snowing relatively every day since Tuesday evening. The cold wind comes everyday around lunch time. Apparently February is the worst month if the winter is particularly harsh. But, really, who is this L.A. girl to judge snow?

Yesterday and Thursday the sun was so bright on the snow I could’ve used sunglasses! I couldn’t stop smiling, and “Winter Wonderland” played on my lips. The streets were frozen and kids were sliding by the soles of their shoes! I can see why people would call winter their favorite season!

Wintertime doesn’t only make bathing more difficult, it makes other basic chores more painful, as well. I washed my clothes on Thursday, with a machine that’s probably older than me. We had to get at least four buckets-worth of water from the well, which we then heated on the camping stove. We poured two into the machine and two into a large metal bucket which we used to rinse each load (of 4). So the order was: machine (for five minutes) in soapy water, ring out, put in big bucket, rinse, ring again, fold into drying cylinder (which I think works how we dry lettuce, by spinning) in order to get out the excess water, and then hang outside in the snow. So I still had to ring out every piece of laundry to de-suds it as if I was hand washing, and MAN do my hands/wrists hurt. And yes, we recycled the water for each load (so I now understand why whites NEED to go first)…but it WAS a machine. I didn’t have to scrub each piece between my fists, rubbing my knuckles raw in the cold outside air.

I know this is a really simple statement, but standing over that barely thigh-high machine that shook like it was possessed, I realized: if you want clean clothes, you have to clean them. And if you don’t have a machine, you wash them by hand. Now it’s Saturday and we’re still working on drying them. What I wouldn’t give for a washboard!