Friday, October 02, 2009

Flashback Friday: Arabian Shower Adventures

Reminiscing last week about our apartment in Damascus, I threatened to tell you about our Turkish toilet. I won't go that far today, but I will tell you about the various showering apparatuses Jeremy and I used during our sojourns in the Middle East. I'm not claiming to have the zaniest bathing experiences ever - we did have running water after all, well, at least most of the time, which is more than some people (like Liz or Nancy) can say - but I thought it might be fun to share a few details.

In Damascus, we literally had a Bath Room. It was an entire room, entirely tiled: floor, ceiling, walls. This made for super easy cleaning - we just soaped the whole thing up with Dettol (pine scent, mmmm...) and sprayed it down. There was a drain in the corner and to dry off the floor after a shower or cleaning, we used one of those ubiquitous oversized squeegees that you've certainly come across if you've spent any time in the Middle East to push all the water down into it. Theoretically, the water would have drained out pretty efficiently by itself, but in a classic example of shoddy workmanship, the drain was not located at the lowest point of the bathroom. So it was literally an uphill battle to get all the water drained out.

Another neat feature of our Bath Room in Damascus was that there was an electrical outlet on the wall right next to the showerhead ("dush telefon" - a telephone showerhead). There was also a button in the bathroom that, when pressed, sounded a buzzer throughout the house. Purpose: unknown.

It was fun to have such a functional bathroom. You could literally take a shower, sit on the toilet, and brush your teeth at the sink all at the same time.

Having actual hot water in the bathroom was another story, and a common theme throughout our showering experiences in the Middle East. The specifications of each system vary, but in general, we had to plan ahead to acquire a limited supply of hot water by flipping a switch. The longer you left the switch on, the more hot water you'd get. We had to be careful, though - the fuel used to heat the water (mazzot) was expensive. There were a few times we accidentally left the switch on while we were at church or wherever, and we'd spend the rest of the day finding tasks to do that required the water we'd inadvertently heated up so it didn't go to waste. It's weird how your life starts to revolve around hot water like that.

Sometimes we just went entirely without hot water. I didn't take a hot shower in Damascus for a few months after moving there. We didn't have any mazzot in our tank, so we just did without during the summer. We ran out again a few weeks before leaving the country and rather than pay to have the tank filled up again, we resigned ourselves to cold showers.

Another time we had to take cold showers on a regular basis was at our apartment in Jebel Webdeh in Amman, Jordan. First of all, the water pressure on the cold side of the tap was ten times stronger than the hot side (but still abysmally weak). Then, we discovered that there was an electrical current running through the water coming out of the showerhead. YIKES. It was all bucket showers after that.

Ah yes, bucket showers. I don't know if that's a universal term or one that Jeremy and I made up, but it means you use a little water to soap up and then a bucket or bowl of water to rinse off. You see, the water supply in every apartment we lived in was very limited. We had a tank on our roof and maybe another one in the basement of the apartment building if we were lucky. When the tank on the roof ran out, we could pump up the water from the basement. When that ran out, we were high and dry until the neighborhood's weekly water delivery day. The entire summer of 2007, I didn't take a single shower. I bathed in about two inches of water in the bathtub. It's an art, and it's one that I mastered. Our efforts paid off - I think we ran out of water only a couple of times that summer.

I have to admit, it's nice to know that in America, I can take a hot shower pretty much any time I want to. As long as Magdalena isn't on the loose, that is.

9 comments:

Suzanne Bubnash said...

The tub surface in the Amman bathroom was a slick as a freshly waxed floor and doubly so when wet. I wonder how many Jordanians are maimed stepping into their bathtubs. Do they sell those rubber flower decals to prevent tub accidents?

Sharalea said...

Love your flashback Fridays!

Though I didn't endure an entire summer of cold showers, there were many that I had in Portugal--which also had the bathroom drainage system in the floor, the full-tiled rooms, and the must-purchase-the-gas every time you run out...AND!!! the little box in the bathroom with a cord, you pull the cord & it rang in the other areas of the house.

At one apt, my comp & I asked a neighbor what that was (and had fun pulling the cord at various times to freak each other out)--she said most older apts had them & it was a safety measure.

So...you have a heart attack in the shower/on the toilet & you can let everyone know...?...

Susanne said...

This was great! I wonder if the bathroom buzzer was in case you needed something -- like, oh, the conditioner your daughter took to another room and hid.

The description of this bathroom brought back memories of the one we had in our room while in Damascus. (Though ours wasn't as beautifully tiled as yours...lol). I didn't like the fact that everything got wet whenever we showered. But at least we had hot water and running water at that! So I got over it. Still it was odd for me the spoiled American. :)

Thanks for sharing these. I love reading about your adventures in other countries.

Liz Johnson said...

Hahahahahaha that's so awesome. When I was in the ranchos, and we went into town on the weekends and stayed in a "hotel" (term used loosely), we had a shower head that was DIRECTLY over the toilet. Meaning you had to actually straddle the toilet to shower. Good times. So awesome.

And maybe that buzzer was the "I ran out of soap" buzzer. I kind of want one.

Brittany Cornett said...

The bathrooms in Israel are like that I think it is an improvement as long as the drain is properly placed. The only down side I saw was that you could not bring your clothes into the bathroom with you or they would get wet.

Bridget said...

Sharalea, I am so excited to find out that another area of the world has bathrooms like in the ME! Portugal - who knew?

You guys have some great ideas about the buzzer. And Brittany, another negative about the tiled floor was that if it was even the slightest bit wet, you had to make sure to have shoes or slippers on just to go in to go to the bathroom. I think we kept some flip-flops outside the door to solve that problem.

Crys said...

We took bucket baths in Jordan as well. Jason would heat a pan of water on the stove, dump it into a bucket and we'd add cool water. Than we'd all stand in the bath tub (pregnant me, baby E, and Jason) and dump bowels of water on our heads. Then we'd soap up. Finally we'd finish off with more bowels of water dumped over the head. Baby E would scream the whole time. I would braid my hair as soon as we got out because we were only taking these every three days and I wanted the clean feeling to last as long as possible.

Spencer said...

All I can say is this: My bathroom experiences in the Middle East have been much better than my bathroom experiences in the former Soviet Union.

(Perhaps that's because after my experiences in Russia/Ukraine I never expected much from a public restroom outside of McDonald's.)

Ashley said...

Remember my bathroom? We had to straddle the toilet to take a shower...

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