Special to the News
Intense heat is not something I have ever become accustomed to. Maybe it is the Yukoner in me.
It’s late May and temperatures in Chad have soared high into the 40s, even 48 C in the shade the other day. I was in Niger this same time last year and experienced the same oppressive heat, but at the end of the day we had bedrooms with solid walls, and air conditioners in each room.
Here in Chad, Medecins Sans Frontieres has a straw mat wall dormitory, where it always seems to be hotter inside then out, and the fan seems to simply circulate hot air.
The heat does odd things to the body, the mind and energy levels. In the day I drink between six and eight litres of water, and still only pee once or twice. It is hard to concentrate, and I am so tired that I want to sleep, but no matter how many wet clothes I wear at once, sleep just doesn’t come.
This past week I was searching desperately for a solution, or at least a coping mechanism. Creativity was necessary, but inspiration was lacking. Then I saw the buckets.
Around our compound we have a multitude of rubber garbage bins filled with water, in preparation for the times that water does not come from a hose attached to a metal pipe coming from the ground (I constantly wonder where the pipe finds the water, but I am a nurse, not a logistician).
I am small, and quite good at contorting my body into an even more compact unit, so without any discomfort I plunged myself into the bucket – fully clothed. The relief was instant. The shocked looks on the faces of observing expats slowly turned to looks of envy as they realized my level of genuine relief.
Three others followed suit. Some had to work a little harder to transform into the compact ball form required for bucket entry, but the effort was clearly worth it. Three consecutive hours were spent in those buckets.
Spirits were high. We sang, we drank our drinks of choice, and those who smoke cigarettes did so. Life was wonderful. I started to envision being able to extend my mission if I could just have daily bucket time.
Then one of the bucket dwellers decided it was time to get out. Being much taller than I, she had used some force to plunge herself into the bucket. She had pulled her knees right up into a little ball and then dropped happily and heavily into her bucket of water, with a little wiggling here and there until she was covered in water right up to her chin.
But coming out was not quite so easy. Some have theories that she expanded in the water, while others say it was just a natural consequence of being a tall woman in a small bucket. For half an hour she tried on her own, and it seemed shockingly similar to the beginning of the birthing process. She tried with all of her might for a few moments, and then she would take a number of minutes to rest and recuperate her energy before trying again.
When she failed to extract herself independently, the cleaning woman became involved. With a serious yet questioning look on her face the cleaning woman pulled, with no avail, on the expat stuck in the bucket. Concerned as we were for the well-being of the woman stuck in the bucket, us remaining bucket dwellers were unable to contain our hysteria.
Eventually our medical team leader stepped up to the plate. Amidst gales of laughter, she assessed the situation and announced that the bucket would need to be tipped over to be able to properly extract the expat. Fear penetrated the face of the stuck expat, shock penetrated the face of the cleaning woman. The expat shook her head emphatically, but it was apparent that all other options had been explored without success.
The bucket was slowly and carefully tipped over, and the water poured out over the sandy ground. And with a number of twists and turns, a human ball finally emerged from the bucket and unfolded into a standing human form.
Once the first expat was successfully extracted from her bucket, fear (and anticipation) developed amongst the observers and bucket dwellers alike, that the same situation would have to replayed three more times. As a representative of the remaining bucket dwellers, I am happy to say that we were each able to easily and independently remove ourselves from our buckets, with no help from external sources. And that night, once I stopped giggling every time I thought of the extraction, I slept better than I had slept in weeks.
I can only begin to imagine what the cleaning woman recounted when she returned home that evening, but one can be sure that her story was accompanied by the passing around of her telephone, on which she had taken numerous photos of the bucket extraction.
The rest of the cleaning women team were already aware of our use of the buckets when they arrived at work the next day. They were rightfully concerned about their water reserves, which in case of water shortage they use to wash our clothes, and clean the latrines with. We made a compromise – I can use the bucket as my personal pool as long as I promise to empty it and refill it after use. The deal was done with a handshake – and my week improved from there.
One daily soak in the bucket is the minimum standard for functioning now. No matter how hot I get in the day, I know that the bucket exists.
The extracted expat has still not returned to bucket life. I look forward to the day that she does.
Tricia Newport is a nurse who lives in
Whitehorse. This is part of a series
of dispatches from Chad.