Decades ago, as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in the slums of India's Worli Chawls, my appreciation for the basics soared. (My 6'x12' room was above the arrow.)
A clean glass of water... I vowed that upon return to the States I'd forever honor, and sip from, every water cooler ever passed. As a PCV, my water came up each morning in a cement-crusted bucket, and boiling didn't get rid of the stuff, including maggots, that continued appearing, even after I transferred the boiled bucketed water to a clean jug.
A clean john... I yearned for that I could "solidly" pass the time on and have toilet paper that was not torn from my ever present back-pocketed, soft-papered international Time Magazine. My PCV john was down the stairs, down the sometimes rat infested alley to the left of the building and into the cockroach infested (as in thousands) latrine/shower house.
And a shower that worked and was neither too far away, too cold, nor wall-lined with humongous cockroaches. These were among the basics I promised to forever henceforth honor.
On our Habitat group's recent Ethiopia Latrine Building Project our showers reflected the passage of plumbing upgrades from Peace Corps experiences from decades earlier. Our modest hotel(s), reflecting investments by some Ethiopians, had quick heat showers canisters, with their flex lines, knobs, and connections cramped into stalls and hanging low enough from shower ceilings to bang into a 6'er's head. Figuring out how to keep the temperature between scalding and frigid and how to keep the flex line from choking off the flow required a Ph.D. in plumbing and prognosticating.
Sending a battalion of plumbers, armed with tools, washers, nuts and bolts, to upgrade inexpensive hotels and to establish plumbing basics for all those millions unable to afford even modest hotel space, would do wonders. Sending bathroom interior designers, who would move bathroom designs away from slippery tiles and allow them to measure curtains that might keep the shower spray in the stall, would also go a long way with Martha Stewart.
So, until Martha Stewart holds more sway in the many Ethiopias of the world, I will still look forward to returning to my simple home shower, or the cleanliness, warmth, and solace of that provided by my favorite Martha, my mom, Martha Hunn.
Certainly, don't let the lack of a shower hold you back from a working a Habitat or Peace Corpsish trip that involves you in how much of the world lives.
Hell, I only saw a couple little roaches in Ethiopia and Kenya, while my India latrine was home to about 2,000 three-inchers lining walls and floors.
Back in those wonderfully meaningful Peace Corps days, tasting the gritty life scared my favorite Martha, who spent her life working to move us from that dirty Cleveland alley. But after succeeding at moving us, including my mortgage scared dad, from the alley, she never withheld me from tasting such lives.
Why? Because mom and her parents knew that it wasn't just the hard work and character of our family that lifted them out of the unpleasant stuff. It took a village. A village of various ethnic friends whose families grew up in an era where they could find jobs that built stronger families than the era before. They grew up in a land then filled with an abundance of resources. And they DID NOT have a ruling class linked to the religious classes that forced them to subserviently build bigger and fancier palaces, churches, mausoleums, and such -- like so many of today's Ethiopia and Kenya's of the world were forced to do.