Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Kuya's Philippine Journals: Showering By Tabo

Upon my arrival to Baguio City, my wife and I checked out the latest completed renovations to the house, which is five stories tall. One story still is nothing more than a shell for storage and the two lowest stories are rented out to transients, but the top two stories are the family living areas and are still tiny by most American standards. Fortunately, there wasn't a big crowd yet and the majority of the crowd had been up all night so we broke off and went to bed. Time: 8:00 a.m.

The beds themselves are very utilitarian and I don't think you would find a "Pillow Top Sleep Number System" bed in all of Philippines. It would probably mold inside of a week. Instead, beds are composed of a metal framework of wire and a thin mattress. Over the course of the week, I would affectionately refer to the bed as "the rack" even if I still would rather sleep on it than be tortured by said device. As I laid down on it, I had been sleeping or spending my waking hours for the last thirty plus hours in a cramped sitting position and to lay flat seems luxurious even if it was on "the rack."

Four hours later, I awoke refreshed and stiff from the bed but soon had the kinks worked out and decided the next order of business was to wash two days worth of grime off myself and get to smelling human again. But in order to do that, I had to face the tabo (short a sound with a long o) bathing method, which I hadn't experienced on my first trip to the Philippines.

Most Filipinos are short on plumbing though most have running water. From what I have seen, they normally have a working kitchen facet and a spigot in each of the bathrooms but that is it for the pressurized side. On the drain side, it is very similar to American standards, i.e. toilets, shower drains, etc. A typical bathroom will be a small room with a toilet and a sink. The floors and bottom half of the walls will be tiled and the doors will have some sort of metal sheathing. There will be a drain somewhere on the floor and a spigot protruding from the side of the wall with a plastic bucket and a tabo (plastic handled ladle for scooping water) underneath. There aren't any shower curtains or bathtubs and if there are, they still don't have running water.

To take a tabo bath you can suck it up and just use cold water or you can heat up some water in a teakettle on the gas stove in the kitchen and bring it up to temper the water. Then you ladle a couple scoops of water over yourself before shampooing and soaping up your body. The rest is rinsing. The water splashes all over the bathroom and gets everything wet which is why they tile the lower half. But it does create some sanitation problems in my opinion.

Between showering and using the same tabo and bucket to flush the stool when necessary, the toilet seat is always covered in water which caused me a great deal of uneasiness when it came to doing your business. In a house full of people, toilet paper seemed to last by the hour and always seemed to be in short supply. So when I had to use some of this precious supply to wipe down the toilet seat before sitting on it, that sometimes left the bare essentials for finishing up. I got to where I horded my own personal roll of toilet paper so that in the middle of the night I didn't stumble into the bathroom to find an empty cardboard tube hanging there which always seemed to be the case.

The other problem is that the bathroom was always wet. Not only does this force you to wear shoes or sandals when using it; it is also a great petri dish from growing all kinds of bacteria especially in the more humid regions of the country. The one advantage to the whole affair was that cleaning the bathroom, a task that I hate when back home in the states, was as simple as splashing a few buckets of water around. You can't beat that!

During the course of my stay in the Philippines, I would spend two nights in Tarlac City down in the provinces at the house of an Uncle of Mrs. Abbey who through a catering and party supply business, seemed to be doing well for himself. He has the first working hot shower I have seen in a private home during my stays in the Philippines. I have included a picture below to illustrate to you why with a hot shower at my disposal, I still took a cold shower. Notice the wire running from the overhead light run off of 240 volts that snakes down to a switch wrapped in electrical tape and then draped up and over the shower curtain rod to the shower head. None of it was wrapped in anything remotely waterproof. I shuddered at what was going on inside the showerhead where the wires terminated and decided a cold shower would be just fine for me.

One more comment on the picture. The "extra" cord hanging down from the shower was a rubber hose tapped into the side of the shower head that ran down to a much smaller shower head kind of like those ones in the U.S. that come connected with flexible metal conduit only not nearly as nice. The small shower head (about one inch in diameter) was the only one that worked. The large one on top produced only a dribble which made me suspect that it was being used as a heating chamber of sorts and definitely convinced me to not try the hot water.

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