Emptying the Mandi

Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara

This afternoon, Bapak Jon was changing the mandi water. We had all been using it for about a week and what was left in the tub before he started to empty it out was about a foot deep and very hard, with dirt, drowned mosquitoes, and other debris floating throughout. I would have happily bathed in it, just to escape the heat. But before I could do so, at around four o'clock, Bapak was at it with a bucket.

I was sitting on the front porch at the time, reading, and proceeded to watch him carry the water out the kitchen door and into the front yard, one bucketful at a time. In his free hand, he held the mandi scoop, which is typically used for bathing or flushing the squat toilet. Presently, he was using it to water the palms and other tropical shrubbery lining the edge of the property. Every time he returned to the yard with a fresh bucketful, he would pick a different shrub or cluster of shrubs to douse, always at the roots, and so managed to both empty the mandi and quench each shrub's thirst over the course of seven or eight trips. Whether they really were thirsty for our week-old, leftover mandi water, I can't say. But the whole process still struck me as a simple demonstration of effortless, local resourcefulness and efficiency.

It was also just an awfully amusing and lovely sight—my Bapak, wearing nothing but an oversized wifebeater and grey boxers, brandishing a bright pink mandi scoop in the middle of our font yard while all around us the wide, green fronds rustled and nodded gently in the breeze.

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