by Maria Ruiz
Maria often shares stories with us about Santa Barbara history, her travel all over the world, her dogs, and life.
“Would you like hot water for your shower?” asked the man behind the desk.
I was registering for a hotel room in Calcutta and was surprised. No one had ever asked that before at a hotel. Especially as this was a well-known old hotel with a history as long as Britain had been in India.
“Of course,” I answered. Did I look like someone that is into torture with cold showers? My idea of a shower is long, hot and full pressure down my shoulders, back and legs.
“Very well, madam,” he said as he turned the register book around for us to sign.
That was my introduction to the one-gallon shower. In the three months that we were to spend in India, we found that
if we wanted hot water, this was what we got.
Rising the next morning, I heard a soft tap at the room door. I opened it to find a bucket of steaming water sitting outside, my hot water for the day. I hauled it into the bathroom, noticing that there was only one faucet tap and, after turning it, found only cold water. I split the hot water into two buckets, added cold water to adjust it to a nice warm, definitely not-hot-but-comfortable temperature, and found a plastic cup to pour the water over myself.
It took a few trials, and by the time I had washed myself clean, rinsed, and dried, I was an expert at showering with one gallon of hot water and an equal amount of cold. After a few trials, we found that both of us could wash and rinse with only one gallon of the hot and as much cold as we wanted.As we sat down to eat breakfast in the hotel’s large dining room, we opened the shutters to gaze out on Ganesh Chandra Avenue, Calcutta, India. Across from the hotel, there was an old-fashioned water pump. Every morning, we’d watch as the people who live in cardboard boxes along the sidewalk came out to bathe in the water they pumped from the Ganges using the old, blackened pump handle. One after another, men would sit, sprinkle water on themselves, soap up and rinse off. When they stood up to leave, others would immediately take their place.
I could only think of how lucky we were to have a room and a bucket of hot water delivered to our door. We could have stayed in an expensive hotel with hot showers but we could never have gotten the care we got from the staff of the Broadway Hotel or the view into the everyday lives of Indians living on the streets of Calcutta.
Most of the world has access to cold water. It seems that only in expensive hotels or the U.S. that hot water is common. In Granada, Spain, we would have to go out into the freezing cold and light the hot water heater on the back porch a half hour before we wanted a shower. In Mexico, we only looked at apartments or homes for rent that advertised hot water. One neighbor explained that only for about two months in winter, was the shower too cold. That was not enough to justify the expense of installation, or the cost of heating the water. And that was middle class, city dwellers. Cold showers do not induce long, wasteful water use.
Now, back in California and the current drought, I am thinking of those three months where hot water was a luxury provided to a few and how, maybe, we should all limit ourselves to a gallon of hot water a day for two people. We think of water as a “right” of birth when it isn’t. It’s a luxury and a very expensive one. Nowhere in the world except here, and maybe in Canada, do people wash their dishes in hot water, and I didn’t see anyone dying of germs left on the plates. If that were a reality, we wouldn’t have the problems of over-population. Only in countries in the tropics, where water is plentiful, are showers slow affairs.
Another luxury we take for granted is the flush toilet. I won’t bore you with stories of going behind bushes, or squatting over holes in the floor of a swaying train. Sufficient to say, flush toilets are a luxury and should be revered as such. We have the means to save water and we’d better do it before we don’t have a choice.