Bucket baths. I love them. Really. The light of the moon, the open air, nature’s chorus, and being washed clean from a bucket has no equal in my book. For two years, bucket baths were my sanctuary. I’d fetch my water from the town well, pump the water, laugh and sing and dance with the women at the well, carry the water on my head, and bring it back to my hut. All before 7 a.m.
The last week in February, across the U.S., current, returned, and hopeful Peace Corps volunteers celebrated Peace Corps week 2014. The one week in the year when it’s socially acceptable to constantly talk about your host family, what weird foods you ate, how hot the country was, what clothes you wore, how dirty you got riding public transport, how you can greet in four different local dialects, how you can sleep anywhere, how you can carry a bucket of water on your head, how you relish a full moon and a starlit night, how you taught classes of 40 plus children, how you didn’t worry about time, how you could walk into a new town and be welcomed to a meal, how everyone is welcome, how everyone knew your name, and how much you’d give anything to be living the simple and hospitable life you experienced during your Peace Corps years.
For two years, I served as an education volunteer in The Gambia, West Africa. Following college I knew I wanted to experience life and serve and see another part of the world. Peace Corps seemed daunting at the outset — two years away from my family and being sent to a country not of my choosing. But something pulled me to apply and to interview, and two months after graduation I found myself en route to The Gambia.
It’s been just about 10 years since I first set foot on the ground of The Gambia and 10 years since my host family and I became a family. I haven’t had the chance to take many bucket baths since returning to America. But there are indeed lessons to be learned from the bucket.
From the bucket baths and the daily fetching of water, I learned to take only what I need and nothing more. I fetched and pumped my own water, I carried it on my head, I used the same bucket of water for cleaning and cooking and bathing. And in reality, you don’t need as much as you would think. And not just with water, but with other materials and things and the stuff that we accumulate. For two years I lived out of two suitcases, and even those were more over packed than I really needed.
From the time at the well I learned what it is to work hard and to play hard. The women who gathered at the well to fetch their daily water never missed an opportunity to share with one another and to lend a helping hand. There were songs and dances and the latest gossip. There were words of care and words of laughter. When you have to fetch water day in and day out, the load is made lighter by friends who are by your side.
And from the time late at night, following dinner and being cleansed, I hear the words of a friend, “Look at the moon. You see, it’s the same moon shining above us as will be shining above you when you are no longer with us. The same moon is always shining over us.”
Peace Corps week may only occur once a year, I may never take another bucket bath, yet, the lessons, the hope and the hospitality remain true. And the same moon beckons each of us forward to experience the simplicity of life.