Keeping Clean (September 2011)

I enjoy taking my bath at the river and my favorite time to bathe is right before I go to sleep so I can feel clean when I go to sleep. It is also nice to have some space because it can get a bit crowded. The river has several places to bathe and the one nearest to me has a man and womens side. There is about 25 ft. that is cleared and although the river at its highest point is no deeper than 3 ft, people do not like to venture more than knee deep because most can not swim. So at peak bathing hours the place is wall to wall (or riverbank to riverbank). It’s amazing how unawkward it is; I imagine old Greek bathhouses had a similar vibe. Guys just stand around all soaped up and chit chat about their yam farm or Prmier League football. The main drawback is just the overcrowding issue and this is compounded with the fact we are all naked. I wouldn’t like to hang out at a bar that is that crowded and bumping into an old naked soaped up guy makesme feel like ‘excuse me’ does not suffice. People also like to borrow my soap, which in theory is fine but in reality sharing your soap with 12 villagers really makes soap go quick. And I will never decline them because I feel bad that without my soap they are not really bathing but actually just rinsing. And lets be honest, thats kinda depressing.

If you are anywhere near the womens bathing area it is customary to yell ‘man is coming'(oshumodadut o cheea) so the women can either cover themselves or as they most often do (especially the old women), do nothing. I have seen more naked old ladies than is necessary and with the combination of bearing 7 children, hard working lifestyle and malnourishment…lets just say it’s nothing to get aroused about.
If one doesn’t prefer river bathing you can always send a small child to fetch water for you. My compound has a small shower area that is designated for the adults. It is kind of a status thing where the richest and most powerful men will never go to the river. In the rainy season you can also catch rain water off the roof and this is somewhat cleaner than the river. The river isn’t exactly dirty but it is far from pristine. At the peak of dry season I won’t lie, it is kinda nasty.
A funny story is when I was visiting Owai and I told my friend I wanted to take my bath. It was night and he said he would show me but the river was a little low. I said it didn’t matter, as long as there was some. Now normally I would think he would show me the spot and leave me there but in fact he volunterred to hold my flashlight for me. So here I am crouched in 8 inches of water with my friend holding the flashlight to make sure I don’t miss any spots. Of course he uses the opportunity to casually talk to me about our workplan the next day. It is moments like these where I wish someone from my own culture was there to confirm that yes, it is actually a strange and funny situation.
But I digress, the whole purpose of this story is to talk about me bathing at night. So one day my friends hear I am doing this and talk to me very seriously. They say that there is juju at night in the river and I could be turned into a duck. They say I have been making a very foolish decision and I reply that I do not believe in the juju. One friend defends me and says it is okay because the local juju will not affect a foreigner. In the end most argued I am being foolish while some told me it was okay. But even he ones who say it is okay will always want me to check in with them after I have returned in the night!
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