In retrospect, I’m a bit surprised by what I chose in the moment. I grabbed the dusty washcloths from the floor, turned up my nose slightly, and began to towel off. I was conscious that this was objectionable, but also aware that desperate times call for desperate measures. This is a new lifestyle I’m getting used to, and every moment is a growing one. Fortunately, Thabiso explained a much simpler shower method, and laughed heartily when I told him what I had tried to do.
It was the first sunny day out of many and I was inspired to go for a jog. I like to stay fit, but moreover, I enjoy taking meandering, spontaneous jogs through new places as a method of exploration. My hosts were, of course, shocked that I would attempt such things. “Run? Can you do that?” H asked. Thabiso declined based on the rationale that, “in the township, you don’t run after 8:00 in the morning.” When I asked why, he just shook his head and repeated, as if it were so obvious he could explain no more.
The jog itself was primarily uneventful, but interesting, as I was viewing new places. I stopped to chat and try out my Afrikaans greetings with a man who introduced himself as Patrick. I informed him that I was heading back toward Riempi and he said, “Be careful. Tsotsis.” I thanked him for his concern.
Further on, two “boytjies” sat playing with rocks and staring at passing cattle. When I stopped to talk, they were suspicious and shuffled off in the other direction. An unfamiliar white face usually elicits one of these two reactions. Either the concern of Patrick, or the suspicion of the two loitering shepherds. The dream is that someday, a white face will simply be another part of the Rainbow Nation and that the welcome and pleasure of my community in Riemvasmaak is not an exception, but the rule. For now, that is part of a grander vision that involves many difficult step. The road to reconciliation is long, but is filled with small strides.
When I returned home, I was hot, sweaty, and smelled the part. I knew that I would need a full body wash and I had no idea how to do that with the facilities in my shack. Until this day, I had subsisted on sponge baths and showering on weekends when I returned to town. I had anticipated this moment since I first moved, but hadn’t quite prepared myself for the ten people gathered at Martha’s when I arrived to ask for instructions. (Imagine a guest in your home asking you to teach him how to bathe.) I braced myself for shack-shaking laughter, and was relieved when Martha calmly explained the process.
(People in the township know what life is like in the more developed world; they’re not ignorant. These are their primary grievances. They want plumbing, electricity, etc. It is logical then that I don’t understand some of the intricacies, in fact, they expect me to know quite a bit less and understand quite a bit less than I do. In their eyes, whiteys are accustomed to life at a higher level of luxury and incapable of doing what they do, thus the questions that sometimes make me feel like a five year old: “Can you walk there by yourself?”)
To this point, my bath each morning has taken the form of a sponge bath in a large, plastic basin. It closely resembles the manner in which you would over a sink, except that you have to dump the water afterward. I would now attempt the full-body in this same scratched, black basin, which suddenly didn’t seem quite so large. Fortunately, Thabiso was visiting his “future wife,” so I had some rare privacy.
Aqua green paint peeled from the door slats, where the noonday sun sent streaks of light into the dark room. The orange and white checkered plastic tablecloth flooring, which resembled the University of Tennessee end zone in miniature, was splotched with puddles of water and mud. The white plaster and newspapered walls peered down upon me, judging. I had to squeeze my body into the basin, which again, would be like sitting in your counter top sink at home. To be clear, this basin is about two feet in diameter.
I am not as flexible as I once thought.
Crammed into this thing as far as I could go, yet unable to reach the bottom, my knees flailed around hopelessly. I splashed about like a fish out of water (in every sense) and attempted to spread soap around. The rinse was nearly impossible, but not quite as humorous as the next part.
Thabiso and I were now staying “on top” in a different shack for a week while we expanded the one below. In the move, I had forgotten one or two items which, until now, had proven superfluous. Suddenly I remembered one of those items which would prove more crucial: my towel. It was still below. My eyes darted around the dark room anxiously looking for an escape hatch. How would I dry off? Ideas flashed through my head:
1) Shake off like a dog and dry in the sun
2) Use clothing for a towel
3) Utilize some dusty washcloths from the floor
4) Toilet paper
5) Never get out
Which would you choose?