Twelve Cold Showers — By Jennifer Shipp
Asia India South Asia Trips

Twelve Cold Showers — By Jennifer Shipp

It’s hard to complain about a place when there’s even a washer AND a dryer.

Our vacation rental in Chennai is fully equipped with all the latest amenities. It has a reverse osmosis water purification system. The furnishings are comfortable. We have air conditioning throughout. The pillows are acceptably soft, but not too soft. And there’s a washer and a dryer. But one of the things it doesn’t have is hot water. Which means that every day, I take a cold shower.

When we first arrived in Chennai, I went through a mini-major-depressive-episode and slept for almost 48 hours straight. The stress of traveling through 5 different airports to the other side of the world over the course of about 96 hours (transit time internationally via airports is measured in hours, not days, since “days” in the traditional sense cease to exist) caught up with me as soon as I had my first opportunity to go to sleep at nightin a bed. Luckily, the exhaustion wore off quickly, but now John and I have settled into a pattern of going to bed at 8:00 or 8:30 PM and then getting up again around 4:00 AM.

Lydi is doing something similar with her sleep schedule, but she’s a teenager, so some nights, she gets giddy when John and I are hitting the wall and then she’ll stay up “late” (till like 10:00 PM) and get up “late” (around 6:00 AM). John and I leave a note behind for her and go out together for a jog around our apartment complex where Indians are quietly making laps walking in their flip flops and saris. Everything in Chennai is a blu-ish color at this hour and though it isn’t “cool” outside it’s much cool-er at 4:00 or 5:00 AM than it is at a later hour. Still, we’re usually drenched in sweat by the end of our workout.

After an hour or so of jogging, we go back upstairs to the air conditioning, which is nice, at least at first. That is, until it’s time to jump in the shower.

There’s no hot water, as I mentioned before, so I stand at the edge of the spray and every morning I stick my hand in and wait (briefly) for it to “warm up”. This is habit for me because where I come from, the water does get warm eventually (even hot). Soon, when the temperature fails to fluctuate, even a few degrees, I remember that there’s no hot water. I try not to think about it too much and a little voice scolds me to just “get it over with”. I lean in to wash my hair. The water isn’t ice cold, but it’s not warm, not even luke-warm really. Let’s just say, I don’t linger in the shower. I wash my hair and extremities first, I shave my legs, leaving huge swaths of razor burn behind from the inevitable goosebumps, and then, at the end, I do a quick full-body dip into the chilly water. My normal, fifteen-minute shower takes only five minutes to complete without all of the frolicking mindlessness that I must normally do in a hot shower. I must spend a lot of time just standing there staring at the wall without realizing it at home because the cold shower routine in Chennai is pretty time-efficient in comparison. I don’t for one moment, forget what I’m there to do or get side tracked by a passing non-shower-related-thought.

The last time I took a cold shower was in a thatched roof cabin that was up on stilts in the Amazon. A tarantula crawled up the wall in that cabin and the kitchen staff would kill the chickens that were out clucking out in the yard in the morning to serve for dinner each night. Here, in this apartment with all the technological upgrades you’d expect in the United States, I didn’t expect to take cold showers. In fact, I forget about the cold shower amidst all the other lovely niceties available in our daily lives, until I arrive back to our apartment each morning following the jog and remember, oh yeah…

I have few insights about cold showers because I use my hot shower time in the U.S. to think philosophically and to reflect on things like cold showers. Even when it’s over 100 degrees outside, I don’t take cold showers back home. It’s easy to forget that hot showers are a luxury in a place like the United States. I guess it’s good to have experiences, like the experience of doing tourism in India, from time to time to help me remember to appreciate them.

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