This morning I had some technical difficulties in the shower. No matter how much I cranked the hot water or how low I turned the cold, I just couldn’t seem to get more than lukewarm water for my shower. Hearing me expressing my frustration, my partner piped up that this was the ‘normal’ time when everyone else in the building was having their showers so, understandably, the hot water was in high demand.
This made sense. I hadn’t been up at this time of the morning for quite some time and, even if I was, I wouldn’t necessarily have a shower straight away. So, it would follow that I wouldn’t usually experience such an early morning calamity on a normal day in my current existence. I resigned myself to the fact that this morning’s shower was not going to be it’s usual scalding hot, wake-me-up-with-steam-and-first-degree-burns affair (yes, I like my showers really, really hot).
I haven’t always been lucky enough to have hot water at the twist of a tap. When I was ten, my mother, my sister (aged 3) and me (aged 10) moved to Jamaica. My mother had met a man while on holidays and decided it would be a good idea for us all to relocate to the Caribbean so she could build a life with her new love interest. To say it was a massive culture shock would be putting it mildly. Aside from the fact that people spoke patois (pat-wa), a form of broken pidgin English that took weeks for me to be able to understand, we also had no hot water and no bath, to speak of.
Up until then, I’d loved a bath. I’d bathe with my sister, my cousins. Even my mum would hop in the bath with me to wash my hair – or even just to bathe. I can’t remember what age she stopped but, don’t worry, it was at an appropriate time. My first shower in Jamaica was traumatic. The bathroom was dark and the paint was stripping off the walls. There were mosquitoes and then the freezing cold water came spurting out of the shower head. Disaster. My life was ruined.
For a little while, my mum would boil a kettle so my sister and I could at least use a tub of warm water for our showers. But that soon stopped and I was too afraid of the stove to do it on my own; it was one of those old school jobs where you turn on the gas and then have to light it manually with a lighter or match. I was always scared I’d lose a finger or the room would explode. By the time I was no longer afraid of the stove, I’d long gotten used to cold showers.
Plus I soon discovered that if you waited til the right time of day, your water would get solar heated while sitting up in the big tank on our roof. Sadly, this scheme only worked on weekends or days when I didn’t have to go to school because you had to bathe around midday or early afternoon to reap the benefits of the sun’s water warming magic. I remember once, on a really hot day, I filled up the shower section with cold water and had myself a little pool. It was a truly decadent use of water that I only got away with because my mum had moved around to her house in the bush and I was the only person that lived in the upstairs section of the old house (my step-brother and various tenants lived downstairs).
For all my complaining, we were actual one of the lucky ones. We had a tank on our roof (later two tanks) so that meant we were able to catch and store rain water for use around the house. We’d also jerry-rigged running water to our house via a pipe from the town square. So, unlike many others, we didn’t ever really need to carry water to our house. The only time we had to do this was when we first got there, before we had the pipe, and when the pipe was broken (which only happened once, to my memory). Luckily, I never had to carry anything because I was too small and weak (occasionally, this can be a good thing). We were also able to use the pipe to refill the tanks when they got low, if there hadn’t been any rain.
So we were pretty lucky. Most mornings there would be people waiting at the pipe to fill their pans and jugs and then carry them back to their houses, in their hands or on their heads. Some people would put the jugs between their legs on their motor bikes/scooters. It was mostly women that did this work but also some children and single men. I was always fascinated by how gracefully the women and, yes, even the children would swing the huge buckets and washing tubs onto their heads and carry them as if they weighed nothing, when I knew they weighed a hell of a lot.
These memories make me realise how lucky I am to even have running water, never mind hot running water. Back in 2008, my partner travelled with me to Jamaica for the first time. We stayed in the house I used to live in and I think it quite shocked him, how basic it was, so far away from anything, no running water, etc. The house had gotten quite run down since I’d left and we had to stay in the old side because the newer side was rented out so it was quite a dire experience (even for me). Needless to say, every time we’ve been back, we’ve stayed in hotels with all the mod cons. But still, I think it was a good experience for him to see how I spent part of my childhood and for me to remember what once got by on so I can appreciate what I have now a little bit more.
Image credit: Quick Meme