Text and Photos By Dieny Itoe
Here in Scotland, in the north-east corner of our front courtyard, is an almost-400-year-old water well. We are yet to send a bucket down but the day we do, I will be transported back to my early childhood that was spent a little north of the equator, in my homeland, Cameroon. Our ancestral home was in a village called Bombe. There too, was a well. It served our family in many ways but the first of our daily encounters with the well was to draw water for bathing. With this water we then bathed from a basin, with a small wash cloth, making the best use of the water as we possibly could. I enjoyed this ritual.
In the more frigid mornings of the raining season, we would brace ourselves for the cold water and race through the act, invigorating as it was. During these months, we children would often bathe outside, under the warm waters of the torrential rains, making a point of getting good and dirty beforehand! If you were inclined to use one, you could fill a wash-cup in seconds and a large basin in no time at all. These memories are fond ones and I am sure it is easy to tell, I am smiling as I type this.
In the village, we would often take trips, en mass, to the river to bathe, often with basins of laundry balanced on heads. The women and men were allotted separate parts of the river. If only I could remember which group gained the privilege of washing upstream.
In our family home, in the town of Kumba, we had indoor showers. We were encouraged to share our shower time with the other females in the household. Water was not cheap and waste, water or otherwise, was heavily frowned upon. The only thing I knew of a bath was a basin-full of rainwater in the back garden. I recall these moments with great affection. Doubtless, this is in large part what has brought me to re-create this style of bathing with my son. Hoping he can take with him the joy of hearing birdsong in the leaves overhead and a soft breeze brushing his damp skin, simply relishing in being outdoors. Not to mention the joy of splashing to his heart’s content without being handed a cloth on exiting the bath! I am conscious too, of waste. Full baths are a luxury in our household and are more-often-than-not, shared by our family of three. My son used to have nightly shallow baths but now that he is older and we are able to be more flexible with his routine, he often has what we call a “bum bath” – a basin of warm water and a cloth. And there it comes, full circle. One day soon, I will take him to the well. We will attach a bucket to a long rope and draw some bathing water.