In Uganda the Pathfinders are basically camping. The two allowances of modernity are our concrete home and foam mattresses. When we arrived the house was not connected to the grid so we had an hour or so of generated electricity—on the days we did not run out of gas. For a couple days we have been connected to the grid, so I guess there are three allowances. We readjusted to the light very easily.
The house is plenty large—two public rooms and two bedrooms. But our only furniture, besides the four beds, are a long, narrow table, four plastic chairs, and what I call the “comfy chair.” The comfy chair is reclined, padded, and an acceptable place for a nap. The floors are untreated concrete that is usually covered in a thin layer of dirt that has blown in or we have tracked in. We leave our shoes outside, but inevitably dirt comes in on our feet. And we are coming in and out a lot. Our living conditions include a real live outhouse.
There is not running water. Well, technically there is. There is a tap outside from which we fill two jerrycans—when the water is flowing. Most of the time the water is not flowing. Our tap is a bit down the line and if too many people up the line have their taps open we get no water. Which is pretty much all the daylight hours. So if we forget to fill the jerrycans before we go to bed we might not have enough water the next day. For the last few days, even that has not been possible. Yesterday we had to take the jerrycans to the school to fill them or we would have nothing to drink. Yes. We drink the water from the tap. Michelle’s Steripen has come become quite useful. Ugandans, however, do drink unsterilized water from the tap. I wonder if getting sick from the water is just a part of life or if they do not get sick from the water at all.
In addition to drinking water, from the jerricans we get water for cooking, showering, and washing our clothes. Cooking a meal can take up to two hours because only one pot can be over the flame at a time. To get the kerosene—called paraffin here—we take a used water bottle to the gas station.
I have not felt truly clean since being in Uganda. Just turning the tap and being showered in water is so much a part of daily life in the US that I had not realized what a luxury it is. There is a indoor shower off the guys room, but we have not used it. The only difference between it and the outside shower area is that is is smaller. Next to the outhouses there are two concrete shower stalls. They are mostly private, but if you step in the wrong place someone might get a show. That someone one is not necessarily another Pathfinder. One day when I was about to bathe I noticed a young man sitting on a neighbor’s wall. I looked at the angles and realized I’d have to change how I’d been washing my hair if I didn’t want him to see me. A dressed muzungu is a sight to behold. Imagine a naked one! To bathe, you have to fill a plastic bucket with water from a jerrycan and carry it to the shower stall. Then using a cup pour the water over yourself. It takes some ingenuity to figure out how to not waste water but also not contaminate the clean water. If you want a warm shower you can leave the bucket in the sun for an hour or so before you bathe, but that is only really possible on Saturdays and Sundays when we are not getting home from school between 5:30 and 6.
Clean clothes are also missing from my life. I wash my clothes. But if the grimy color of the rinse water is any indication, I don’t think they get very clean. Cleaning clothes involves a series of soaking, hand washing, and rinsing then drying on the line we’ve hung between a tree and the gate. And it uses a lot of the precious water. I don’t really mind the work, but I miss how clean machine laundered clothes are. I am not very good at hand washing clothes.
The outhouses (there are two) are the worst part of our situation—and even they are not so bad. They are squat toilets. We do have to weather the rain to get to them occasionally. But they don’t smell as bad as they could. The concrete hole is a little small—about 4×4 inches—but there is a small broom and small jerrycan of water provided to clean up after yourself if you miss. What makes them the worst is the cockroaches. The huge cockroaches. The huge cockroaches that live in the pit and come out at night. During the day the outhouses are not that bad. At night they are gross. I spend too much of my time strategically avoiding using the outhouses after dark.