Growing up in Minnesota, it is common practice to shower every day. It is such a mundane habit of turning on the water to warm, jumping into the enclosed shower, and washing your hair and body. Little thought is put in, in fact, it encourages your mind to wander and daydream. When I was preparing to go to Myanmar, I expected to experience cultural difference, language barriers, and lifestyle differences, but it never occurred to me that the monotonous process of showering that I went through everyday could be so different between Myanmar and Minnesota, and that showering would stand to be one of the more distinct and memorial experiences.
The definition of what constitutes good personal hygiene varies amongst cultures and communities. For me, growing up in Minnesota, it is common, if not expected, to shower daily using both soap and shampoo. The process of showering is a very personal experience done in an enclosed space. After living in a village, Sonywa, in the Sagaing Region of Myanmar for five weeks, my notion of the showering process was challenged. This village had recently completed an underground water system and there was a pump in the front of every home. Showering, therefore, was done outside of the house and was a very public event. People would wear a longyi and pour water from bins over their bodies. Once they were clean, they would change out of the wet longyi into a dry one.
As foreigners living in the village, people from the village seemed to be curious about us. Our first shower was no exception; almost the entire village gathered around to watch us take our first shower. I began by taking bins of water and pouring them over my head as I had observed from watching other people shower. Shortly after I had started, three women came over and took the bins from me and started pouring water over me. Two more women came with soap and began extensively rubbing soap all over my body. Once the soap had washed off of me, the five women changed me out of my longyi into a dry one. They then led me to the room I was staying in and put on my bra and shirt. They found my hairbrush and brushed through my hair and tied it up into a bun. Throughout the whole process, they complimented me telling me “လှ.”
Before staying in Sonywa, I could not have imagined being showered by five women, outdoors, and in front of a large crowd. This became my norm for my few weeks in Sonywa.
Water well in Sonywa
Shower at the house I stayed in in Sonywa