Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Works for Me: Bath Bowl
This week more than others, my heart and mind are on the Middle East. So even when thinking about a post for Shannon's Works for Me Wednesday, my mind turned to a small item from the Middle East that really does work for me. It is a traditional bath bowl. Mine is lightweight tin. I bought it from a peddler in Hasake in northeastern Syria in either 1992 or 1994. It was a common household item among the settled bedouin who we worked with on the archaeological excavation. It has probably been a common household item in the region for a thousand years (in a clay version, not tin).
A bath bowl is what you use to scoop water from a basin, first mixing hot and cold water to the proper temparature and then to tip the water over yourself to bathe. It is largely disappearing from the urban Middle East now as water heaters and western-type showers become more common. Rural people without running water who bathe in basins or in a river or stream still use them. In 1996, during my dissertation fieldwork I lived with family in urban Damascus who kept a traditional-style house complete with a hamman or bathroom. They were lower middle-class but avoided too much modernity as a sign of their religious faith, a bit Mennonite in that regard. (Toilets are in a separate area, the hamman is for bathing). On bath day, an enormous pail of water would be kept piping hot over an open gas flame. When it was my turn to bathe (once a week), I would stand on a wooden pallet and first dip water out of the pail on the burner (I was terrified of tipping the enormous kettle and scalding myself) to mix with cold water in a five-gallon pail. Once I had the water the right temperature, I would dip and pour the water over myself with a bath bowl. The rhythm of dipping and pouring was soothing and somehow it felt luxurious too. The pace of wetting the skin, scrubbing the skin, and then rinsing with the bowl felt, I don't know, peaceful and very human somehow. (I'm not one for the collective unconscious but maybe there's an echo there connected to the bath bowl and what has to be a very early piece of human technology).
I brought my bath bowl home with me. I recognized an American version in the plastic bowl that the hospital provided along with a scrub brush to take home with each of my newborns. "A bath bowl!" Of course, there's nothing better to rinse a baby with. I have also used mine to bathe cats, clean the tub, soak hands, and wash my kids' hair.
Today, showers come in an amazing variety but I don't think that any sort of multi-jet, massage setting, or whirlpool beats the rhythm of dip and pour, dip and pour, that a bath bowl provides.
Works for me!