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Bathtubs Telling Stories

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A lone bathtub overlooking a Moldovan vineyard.

Bathing is a variable characteristic of any travel experience. From Turkish baths to mud baths, bathing styles (not just the frequency) can both describe a culture and determine one’s experience within it. It’s one of the most strikingly different factors of a new land.

That difference doesn’t stop at American borders, either. I’m home alone now for the first weekend in a while and enjoying a long and perfectly heated bath in my own apartment. The ability to take a bubble bath is a primary symbol of my new life. Every aspect of the process is different than it would have been otherwise—the shape of the tub, the length of time I stay in, the silence of the apartment, and the ability to take one at all.

I would like to take you on a journey of reflection and explanation of the bathtubs that have helped to shape my experiences since 2007 in Moldova, on a Research Sailboat, in Graduate School, on a Mediterranean Yacht, and now in South Florida.

1. Moldovan Water-Less Bathtub as a Peace Corps Volunteer: It’s not the lack of running water that can make bathing difficult, but, rather, the lack of space dedicated to getting wet and messy. Bathing over a bucket is difficult primarily because the water gets all over the floor if you try to pour it over even the smallest of body parts.

I was one of the fortunate volunteers who, though without running water, did have a tub. It wasn’t attached to anything except a drain, but it was a porcelain tub that I could pour heated water into, could lay in relatively comfortably, and that allowed for full-body bathing in the frigid winter months.

But the tub was in a virtual indoor icebox, and if I dared to let my bare bum touch the porcelain, I feared it would freeze to the bottom. Perhaps that’s why my host family members didn’t actually get in the tub, but leaned over it to pour the warm water over themselves. I couldn’t help myself, though, and would stand in the tub and pour water directly overhead, letting it flood over every inch of my body—a luxury that it more desirable than the “running” of the water through pipes, I promise.

One winter evening, I slipped in the tub, knocking over the bucket of warmed water, and ended up on my back with my feet in the air and my host mother running in to see if I was alright. This amusing memory has become a fundamental part of my Moldovan experience.

Bathing time was: A learning experience.

2. The 3-Minute Shower on the Research Sailboat: I thought I knew how to take a quick shower, but banging around on a thrashing sailboat (in a stall space that is only two times as wide as you are, while using one hand to brace yourself and another to wash) is crazy by all definitions. I had some monster bruises to prove it. Plus, environmentally friendly folks try turning the water off while they suds up, and all with one hand! I must confess that I kept some people waiting on more than a few occasions. Of course, many boats don’t even have fresh water showers, so this challenge was a blessing.

Bathing time was: Hectic.

3. No-Bath Dormitory as a Graduate Student: There was no bathtub in my graduate school dormitory.  If there had been, I wouldn’t have wanted to use it. However, I never had to wait for a shower, and I got used to showering in flip-flops again. It was a good reminder that bathing is primarily practical, not luxurious.

Bathing time was: Practical and public.

4. The Beautiful Shower on a Luxury Yacht: The yacht I worked on this summer was quite the opposite of the experience on the research sailboat. I’m definitely not complaining; I am just pointing out that a beautifully tiled shower is not the same as a beautiful bath. I probably should’ve spent more time polishing the stainless after each use.

Why am I mentioning this shower? First, I was on this boat when my plans changed. So it was nice that I didn’t have to worry about bathing difficulties while my emotional life was in upheaval.

But, most importantly, while we were at sea, another crew member was getting email updates on the status of the bathroom she was having built back home. A bathtub, she described, was a necessity in any home or hotel where she stayed. We spent many precious moments discussing the required features of a bathtub. It should, for example, have a rim that is wide enough to hold a wine glass.

I began to realize that I hadn’t had a real bath in ages and that, indeed, a long bath is a real luxury.

Bathing time was: When I forgot I was on a boat.

5. The Solo Tub in the Sunshine State: Now, here in South Florida, I am finally in a place where I do have the time to rest, where I am in a private setting, and where my learning-and-growing process has nothing to do with the logistics of life, but in the enjoyment of it.

Bathing time is: My own.

I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences for another. They were challenging, entertaining, interesting, and unique. And they describe the larger experiences succinctly. For example, Peace Corps in its entirety was a one nonstop learning experience, and sailing with Sea Education Association was indeed a hectic test in learning how to handle challenges under stress.

So it makes sense that, now, in an experience that is undefined by any pre-designed challenge, I am able to choose how I bathe, how hot the water is, and how long I stay in. This Spontaneously Solo time in Florida is all about focusing on “me time,” after all, and what is more “me time” than a nice long bath?

Samantha Marangell
Blogger As a former Peace Corps Volunteer (Moldova ‘07-’09) Samantha appreciates seeing a new country through the host community and, when traveling, she looks forward to learning key phrases in the respective languages. She has just moved to the Australia after a year in the Czech Republic. She will reflect on making friends abroad and figuring out whether she'll finally stay in one place.

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