Ubuntu: a bittersweet bathroom
South Africa is a diverse country – there are multiple languages spoken and cultures that reside here, but also contrasting ways people live. I live in a rural village of South Africa with electricity, but no running water.
Just about 50 km away you can find a town where practically everyone has such amenities. Or, I can go to another PCVs village about a 15 minute drive down the road to a village with no electricity. Mind boggling.
Rural villages are becoming more “advanced” as time goes on – some villages in my area have sanitary pit latrines provided by the government (mine has yet to receive this delicacy), most have electricity, most have water taps also provided by the government, and few families have running water.
My village got electricity in 2005. Everyone in the village has access to electricity if they can pay for it. People have to recharge a card with electricity to have it turned on in their houses. Then when the card runs out of money, their electricity goes out until they recharge it.
It seems as though the progression of development in the village goes like this: electricity –> pit latrine –> running water.
As of today, my homestead – the Mathebula house – has running water in the bathroom! My host brother, his father and uncle have been working on installing water pipes for two days. They somehow connected the water pipes to the tap pipe so the water can flow to the bathroom. I tried to have my host brother explain it, but was lost in translation. I got a little too excited about it because it was so neat to watch them do all that work that we would just call someone to do for us in America. Every handy-man, fix-it, type of construction projects are done solely by those in the village or family members, no matter how daunting the task may be.
My mom bought a bathtub, sink and toilet two or so years ago. I remember one of the first days at my family’s house she gave me a tour of the house; I saw a bunch of bathroom supplies just sitting there ready for installation.
I later found out how the story goes: her husband died almost two years ago from a sudden heart attack. Before he died, they bought a bunch of stuff to re-do their house that he was going to construct or install. Then when he passed away, everything just sat there. Since I’ve been here, my mom has been filling up her house the way her and her husband wanted it. Now my mom is finally getting the house her and her husband dreamed of, even if he’s not here.
Anyways, it’s 2013 and my family just now has access to a bathroom and is one of the few in the village that do. And when my 23-year-old host sister was 15, they got electricity. The little things we take for granted in America and don’t even think twice about are such a milestone for people in my village.
Will I get to use the bathtub? Nah, I don’t live in my host family’s house; I just live on the compound in a hut. I’ll still be splashing around in a bucket. Two years of crouching over a bucket isn’t bad, but my mama’s done it her whole life. Time for a bubble bath! You go mama!