What’s a shower?

Today I put out an open call on Facebook for ideas for blog posts because I’ve been having trouble coming up with them lately, and I got some great ideas back.  So without further ado, I present you with an in-depth analysis of the showering techniques of white people in Indonesia.

This may sound like a completely random topic, but let me give you the background information first. Showers as we know them in our Western nation homes don’t exist in this country. Instead, we take what is known here as a mandi, which consists of essentially taking cold water out of a bucket with a smaller scoop and dumping it over yourself.  Dump more water, lather, rinse, and you’re done!

The basic idea of a mandi. Ours at camp consist of essentially giant garbage bin-sized tubs full of water and covered with mesh to prevent mosquito infestation.

Mandis take some getting used to, and unlike your basic shower one can take multiple approaches to this all-important task.  If you mandi directly after returning from the forest, your technique is less important because the idea of throwing cold water all over your body is extremely appealing.  However, if mandi-ing first thing in the morning, or in the late afternoon after you’ve cooled down for an hour, dumping cold water on yourself sounds less refreshing and more like stepping into a frigid version of hell.  Indonesians, on the other hand, don’t seem to mind. Most of them mandi early in the morning and/or late in the evening when the water is at its coldest.  So how does a bule (white person) accustomed to warm showers manage?  Should you just “take it like a man” (or woman) and dump the first scoop right over the head?  Should you start at the legs to let your body get over some of the initial shock of the cold?  Is there ever hope of getting warm water instead of what feels like glacial melt?

After doing some extensive research on the topic- i.e. asking the first 5 people I encountered in our house this afternoon how they handled the shower situation here- I have discovered that each person has his or her own approach to the mandi.  Here are the results and feedback from my informal survey (to be written up in scientific paper form at a later date):

1. Jess: “The mandi is mandi-tory!”  Argh… all bad jokes aside, Jess’s approach is the boldest one- just dump the first scoop right over your head.  There are some costs and benefits to this technique, but having tried it I can tell you that it’s only good at certain times of day.

2. Helen: Washes her hair first without getting the rest of her body wet to cool down a bit, then starts from the legs.  She also makes sure to take advantage of the water sitting in the pipes on warm days, and targets the outdoor mandis for a nice afternoon shower.

3. Sarah: Similar approach to Helen, but utilizes the “countdown method” to psych herself up for the first scoop.  I’m thinking about adopting this method myself!

4. Luke: Takes a slightly more roundabout approach. He does one arm first, then the other, then the front of the body, then the back, and then FINALLY gets his head wet.  Interesting, interesting.

5. Nick: Wants to be quoted as saying “the mandi is never pleasant” and “I’ve never liked a cold mandi.” Ironic, since he has been here the longest of all of those interviewed.  Since Nick has been able to spend more time in town lately, he sometimes boils the kettle and mixes it with the cold water so he can have a warm mandi- the luxury!  Anyway, if there’s no warm water available Nick likes to delay the inevitable for as long as possible by washing his face and arms first, then braving the cold.

It’s funny how something as simple as washing yourself can inspire so much conversation (and pose such a challenge at times), but that’s field life for you.  Nothing is ever comfortable, but we make do.  As for me, my mandi technique changes on a daily basis depending on the time of day and how I feel, but it generally wavers between the countdown/legs first method and just sucking it up and taking the plunge.  I like to think that 18 years spent enduring the Minnesota winters has upped my mandi tolerance, but after many months here I think I’m just a big baby.  And for the record, I am very much looking forward to my next warm shower, whenever that may be….


2 thoughts on “What’s a shower?

  1. This was actually quite interesting… I’ve been in similar experiences and I’m with Helen on this one – always do my head/hair first and then do my body (and rather quickly). Leads to some pretty funny bending-over acrobatics to ensure your body doesn’t get wet at first, but ultimately worth it in the end. Good luck over there with the mandis you guys 🙂

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