U is for Utilities (Africa)

24 Apr
Gathering rain in...totally did a double take.

Gathering rain in…totally did a double take.

(A to Z Blogs April 2015 – Back to Africa)

My friend warned me, “It’s the rainy season, so the utilities will be a little…you know.”

I didn’t know.

I figured from a previous visit to Congo that if the capital city of Kinshasa lost electricity and water for short durations fairly regularly that being all the way on the other side of the country meant more of that–especially given the season.

Sometimes we were without electricity for longer periods (like hours or maybe half the night), but our hosts had a generator they would run if they or we needed it. We ran the generator at the education center a good bit and went through a lot of gas which bothered me more. Like we were pouring money into a machine when beautiful bight sunshine was all around waiting to be harnessed. A little bummed that solar panels are so expensive, but I understand the need and the benefit in a different way now and am praying for supply.

The great thing about the rainy season is that when the running water stops running, there is still plenty. Our first few nights in East Congo the rain came down and the two 100 gallon(?) drums on each side of the house filled to over flowing by morning. I kind of wondered how many times you wash out a hydrochloric acid drum before you’re confident about drinking its contents, though.

When you travel in Europe you learn to take advantage of the restrooms at your lunch, cafe, snack stop because they aren’t available to anyone but customers. In Congo you learn to hop in the shower if someone says there’s hot water running. Otherwise our kind hosts lugged a 5 gallon bucket of piping hot water from the stove up to the bathroom for us. If I wasn’t doing the #AtoZChallenge for my blog, I would have entitled this “Standing Bath, Sitting Shower.” For bucket bath I find it easier to stand and run water by the cup-fulls as needed from the position where the water covers the most area. For the showers I sat though.

The shower head was what I tend to think of as European since I first saw them here and they are very common. They are the ones with the head mounted on a flexible hose that are terrific when giving the dog or a small child a bath since you can hold it at any angle and get in close where needed. What I don’t get is why they are mounted about a meter (or yard) above the bathtub. To relax under the stream of hot water, to wash out my waist length hair is to sit.

Our timing and schedule being as full as it was, we were mostly standing this trip. Bathing from bucket is not new to us–as my niece pointed out, she used to use the bucket method when visiting her grandparents on the reservation back before they got running water. Used frugally, the bucket had enough in the bottom to turn my head upside down and dunk my hair for one wash and rinse.

It was fine. We adjusted and came home with a greater appreciation of what we have so readily and often take for granted. Still I have to say I am especially grateful to whoever it was that invented “Dry Shampoo” that works for brunettes like us. Thank you!

At some point I told my Congolese friend, “I thought the utilities would be more of a challenge since it’s the rainy season and all.”

She frowned like she didn’t understand and I reminded her about the warning she gave me before arrival. “Oh no,” she said, “things are much better in the rainy season with all the water and everything. I meant to prepare you because it wouldn’t be like what you’re used to.”

Oh. Guess I got it all wrong–and I’ll pack more dry shampoo when I travel next time.


 Kristin King is an author, publisher and co-founder of the nonprofit Future Hope Africa which is based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She is from Kentucky (USA) and lives as an expat in Holland.


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