Chris' Original Blogbeque

A fresh, vinegar-based examination of life

Cleanliness, pt 1: What I do and what others do

Posted by Chris on October 18, 2007

It goes without saying that this is a very dirty place. That is, the dirtiness is very visible, such as the piles of trash and smog. But America is also a very dirty place. No piles of trash, but ozone-depleting gases, infections in hospitals due to not washing hands, etc…

I have faced some unique problems. For one, I decided to change pillow covers. I have several pillows, some provided by IITD and one I brought. So I took my cover off and put in laundry bag. When I took it out a week or so later it was covered in mold. Do I wash and try to re-use, or throw away? I have had this pillow cover since beginning of college. You’ll be happy to hear that I threw it away. I remembered that part of the reason I brought it was because I had newer ones and didn’t mind if something happened to it.

Everytime I get in or sit on my bed, I brush my feet off. I have a tile floor in my bedroom and there’s a lot of dirt and dust. Sometimes, after walking around the city—which means you will have dirt if you’re lucky, mud if you’re not, caked all over your feet and ankles—I even wash my feet independent of taking a shower. I should probably do this in the US too but here it seems much more significant.

I already mentioned laundry. It must be hand-washed. I have been told that some families might have appliances for this, and I’ve seen them advertised but they are expensive and it seems like hand-washing is not a task the women mind. Most women are housewives no matter the income level so it’s not a matter of convenience. I use the water that comes out of the shower/bath, which is clear but I have been told not to drink straight tap water. Most people you see washing clothes in the pukurs (small ponds/canals that are everywhere) or wells/other constructed water sources. To “clean” the clothes I see women beating them and kneading them against the ground, cement if it is there. Which probably makes them cleaner but I da know about clean. Of course, it’s all relative. My hand-washing doesn’t feel all that great either. I think it’s a combination of not being able to get all the soap out and the water being not so great and also the different feel that is produced by air drying.

The pukurs, wells, and these small pools of water that come from pipes in the city are also used for bathing. In fact, these water sources are used for drinking, fishing, and everything else. That can be a problem. The average Bengali probably does not suffer on a daily basis but it is a potential vector for disease. The issue of drinking water quality would be important when someone is sick, let’s say with malaria, and needs good food and water. The water we drink here is filtered and I have no idea if water obtained from these non-tap sources is being boiled or filtered.

It’s weird getting used to seeing men bathing in public in the middle of a big city. They are usually wearing gym shorts or something like it, so it’s not that weird if you were thinking about that. I am told that Hinduism also requires bathing each morning before visiting a temple, but that it’s more of a nominal bath almost like a cleansing or baptism. This may perpetuate the idea of cleanliness without the presence of sanitary hygiene but I really don’t know.

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