Flashback to China: Why I won’t take a shower for granted

china

Standing in the shower, the hot water rolling off my skin is beyond relaxing and therapeutic. I exit feeling refreshed, clean, relieved. I am able to take my time to get the full shower experience. It’s really something so small, a shower. Just another part of our day–like brushing our teeth. Putting on clothes. But since living in China for four months, I can honestly claim:

You don’t know the beauty of a shower unless you’ve spent time in rural China.

For 2 weeks in February of 2010, I spent the majority of my time on a school bus on the mountainous, rocky roads of the Yunnan province. We were to complete 6 different village stays in which we spent the night with a family that lives off the land.

Before the trip, in a casual conversation with one of the coordinators at our school in Beijing, we discussed the trip. “Don’t be like a lot of girls get,” she said. “Don’t be caught up in being pretty.” The long bus rides, minimal resources, and lack of sleep would teach me exactly what she meant.

Our two-week journey across southern China worked something like this: Days were spent on the bus driving incredibly long distances. If we were lucky, we’d stop at a gas station or at least some sort of building-like structure that offered a hole in the ground for business-doing. If not, guys went to one side of the bus, and girls to the other. At one particular “stop” with no trees around and open field, I simply decided “I’ll pass.” We would arrive in our village in the afternoon/evening and participate in whatever events the villagers had planned for us. We’d sleep, then wake up early, then be back on the road again. We alternated: One night in a village, one night in a hotel.

But it wasn’t an incredible bathroom, or readily available toilet paper–it was a shower that I so longed for on those nights in the village stays. Bus rides, while long were exhausting. All I wanted was a chance to wash the accumulated filth off my body, and maybe a mirror to look at myself and make sure my face was presentable in some sort of fashion.

While the stays with the families in the villages were no doubt one of the best experiences of our lives, we praised the times we were granted a hotel. Or someplace with a shower. But these blessings were not always a walk in the park.

One particular hotel stay was less like a hotel, and more like a house provided to us. We were in a village that at this moment the name escapes me. It was high up in the mountains–the weather was cold and we were on the far west side of China. Some folks in our group got altitude sickness due to the dramatic change.

We were at a school in this village with a bunch of kids. We read to them and played with them and got a real taste of the school experience in rural China. In this particular village, perhaps because of a drought that was going on then in some areas, the water was being shut off after 10 PM. At about 9:30, one of our group leaders filed us out, as he promised to get us back for a shower, that, if we got back in enough time might be hot.

I’m telling you, people were running, not jogging, to get back to where we were staying so they could wash themselves. By now, it was so cold that the idea of cold water was almost unhandleable. I found a bathroom and and made my move.

It must have been a little over a minute in, my hair piled on the top of my head in a shampoo-covered mess when the water shut off. There I stood, in some shower, somewhere in the mountains of western China with shampoo in my hair, freezing. Long story short, our group leaders hustled me out, up the stairs and into another bathroom that for some reason still had water. I had enough time to rinse my hair, and barely rinse my body before the water turned icy and I got out as quick as possible.

My hair froze. And I’m not exaggerating. It was like my head was a roof and my hair were stringy, brown icicles that hung down. I laid in bed that night, my breath visible as I tried to get to sleep.

The lesson here is that sometimes challenging circumstances turn out to be the best adventures.

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