June 15, 2010

Bucket List

Although I am fortunate enough to have access to a water spigot a few houses away in my compound, like so many people around the world, I do not have any running water in my house.  Oh, what a difference indoor plumbing makes.  I never quite realized just how important a good bucket is, how many different kind of buckets there are, and how the slightest difference can make one bucket invaluable, and another entirely annoying and useless (and what’s worse than a useless bucket?).  I never imagined that I would feel passionately enough about a certain type of bucket that I could walk into a China shop with dozens of different styles of buckets, but not be able to find “the one.”  It’s almost like looking for just the right dress (or so I’ve heard; I’m not good with fashion).  Except if you buy the wrong bucket, instead of just having an embarrassing fashion faux pas, you’ll have to make countless extra trips to the water spigot because your carrying bucket was too small or sloshes too much water with each step (which then creates the secondary problem of muddy feet), or the handle hurts your hand if you fill it all the way; you’ll have to squnch up or contort into bizarre positions while you bathe because your bath bucket’s too small or a weird shape; you’ll waste too much water because your dishwashing bucket is too big; you’ll kill yourself trying to dump the water from your clotheswashing bucket because it’s too deep and you just can’t help yourself from filling it each time in order to maximize the water:dirt ratio (clothes get SO dirty here because it’s so dusty!  But that’s another entry in and of itself-ha!)…you see where I’m going. 

Sometimes you find what you think is the perfect bucket, but it doesn’t have a lid, and it needs one, or the bucket is awesome but the handle sucks, or it’s just more pula than you can justify spending because it is, after all, just a bucket.  Because I think it is impossible to really convey what a big role buckets now play in my life, here is a list (which is not even comprehensive, because I don’t even think I can actually think of all of the buckets that I still need, and may have forgotten some that I have) of the buckets that I currently have or need:

Buckets I Have:
-Large bath bucket (the one I sit in)
-Small bath bucket (for pouring the water on myself while sitting in the large bucket)
-Several LARGE water storage buckets, with lids (water occasionally runs out here…like today, for example)
-Water carrying bucket (for transporting water to and from the large storage buckets—they are too big for me to carry when they are full)
-Bedpan (ok, tried to slip this one in the middle so it would go unnoticed…but as much as I would like to believe that the next two years of my life do not include a bedpan, two months with a pit latrine have taught me that that is entirely improbable, and I must simply accept this reality.  Although it has lead to some good running jokes amongst PCV’s about possible accidental “CRAP, I’m not in Botswana anymore!” moments when we return to the States and crash with friends…hahahahaha, oh Peace Corps humor…oh wait, now none of you are going to let me stay at your houses again, are you?! )
-Dish washing bucket
-Dish rinsing bucket (you’ve all washed dishes by hand at some point, I hope, so I think it’s fairly self-evident why I need both a wash and rinse bucket)
-Clothes washing bucket
-Clothes rinsing bucket (in theory I could also use the clothes washing bucket for rinsing, but if I pour the wash water out and then the rinse water in without first wringing the clothes out, I won’t get enough soap and dirt out, so I must wring them out before rinsing them, and if I used the same bucket, there wouldn’t be any place to put them in between, except the dirty ground, thus reversing all of the effort I just exerted to wash them.  And I can wash more clothes at once with two buckets, too.  It’s just practical, really.)

Bucket Wish-List (Yes, I have a bucket wish-list):
-Food storage buckets (I have NO cabinets/pantries, etc. [I’ll write a blog about my house soon]—my furniture consists of a bed [yay!] a small chest of drawers for clothes [which is full of clothes], a plastic table and two plastic chairs, a large toaster oven w/ 2 burners on top, and a small fridge, which I bought)
-Small bucket for washing my hands (that I can just keep full w/ soapy water so I don’t have to make as much of an effort to wash my hands like 80 times a day) (in theory I could try to multipurpose another bucket, but I use the dish washing buckets for storage/as a dirty dish bin when I’m not washing dishes, I use one of the laundry buckets as a dirty clothes bin when I’m not washing clothes, and they are far too big anyway, and I could use the little bath bucket, but I use it to hold my toiletries when I’m not bathing. Oh, and the water carrying bucket needs to be free for whenever I need to refill water.)
-Compost bucket with lid (I want to garden ASAP…need more veggies!!!!)
-Trash bucket (even though trash just gets thrown outside in a pile and burned, the environmentalist in me needs a trash can so that I can imagine something else will happen to it)
-Mop/cleaning bucket (I could, in theory, use my dish bucket or carrying bucket, but I want to at least pretend that those buckets are semi-clean…)
-Rain collecting buckets (inside and out—it’s not rainy season at the moment, but I have a tin roof and no ceiling, and I am in no way deluded enough to think that I’ll make it through the torrential downpours of the rainy season without at least a few leaky spots).

I feel like I’m missing some, but that’s all that come to mind off the top of my head. 

While I talk about this somewhar jokingly, it is actually a good illustration of just how much more difficult even simple things are here—it’s easy to take for granted after a while, but I am living as a PCV, so though I earn only a small living allowance, I still have the comfort of knowing that I could return to my luxurious lifestyle in the States at any time, and that if I really needed something, I could tap into American resources to get it.  But for the people who don’t have that safety net and have never known any other life, it’s an entirely different experience.  As trivial as something like a good bucket may sound, they are actually not cheap.  My village has few job opportunities (I’ve heard that only about one third of the population here is employed, and that does appear to match what I have seen, though I have yet to corroborate it with anything official), and I have no idea how anyone can afford get by.  Something like a bucket, or lack thereof, actually has the potential to cause a great deal of frustration and stress in day-to-day life, and for so many people, it is just one more of those “little things” that, when combined with so many other “little things” paints an entirely different picture of life, and all that life has to offer.  I can’t imagine how much different my worldview and my life goals and aspirations would be if so many seemingly small things posed such a struggle.

Obviously I expected this sort of thing when I joined the Peace Corps (and, really, relative to so many other places in the world, Shakawe is in good shape—most people have electricity and some access to clean water, and the Botswana government provides a great deal more support than most). But it is one thing to think about and another thing to experience.  It is yet one more reason that I am overcome by gratitude for my life and all of the privileges I have been given, and one more thing that keeps me motivated to make the most of this opportunity and be as effective as possible over the next two years.  It also makes me really appreciate the value of a good bucket.


  1. I never thought about buckets much - I don't even own one. You're right. With a sink, tub, and running water, I can get by easily without one. From now on, whenever I think about how annoying it is to clean the bathrooms, I'll imagine life without running water and living out of buckets. I bet you, at the very least, I'll take to the task more cheerfully.

  2. Chelsea! I just wanted to say I read this here blog about buckets. :)



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