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Using Waskoms is my Dance

Our showers at the asylum are grim and cold to look at. The tiles are older than all of us combined. Although I’ve never been inside a real prison, I can imagine that we shower like prisoners here.


I thought of home, sometimes, when I showered here. We have no bathtubs or showers at home. We have waskoms only. We plug in the kettle then leave the kitchen. We head for the bathroom or whichever part of the house where we keep our waskoms, then take either a plastic or a metallic waskom. At home, we only have plastic ones. The larger one is red, but it leaks so no one can use it. The medium one is blue and the smallest is black.


When the water has come to a boil, we wait for the kettle to turn off automatically, and then we pour the boiling water onto the waskom. Kettles don’t last long in the township. So sometimes, we have to use either of our pots to boil water.


We then mix the hot water with cold water. The mist climbs up our cheekbones. We take our waskoms to the bedroom or whichever part of the house where we take a bath, then place it on the floor. The bending of the body is a hefty task. For adults, it is a long way down with the water heavy in our arms.


Our minds wander around. Maybe they start thinking about our relationship with our boyfriends. How they have changed. They used to be the one calling, but now we are the ones to initiate calls. They seemed distant these days like they are interested in someone else.


They could be interested in someone else, have we checked their Facebook statuses lately? Maybe we start thinking about the criminals who could walk in on us taking a bath. That frustrates us about the township, the fact that we could never feel safe. Not when we’re naked, especially, not when we’re absolutely alone in the house.


We take the soap and the washing rag and put them inside the waskom. The water is lukewarm on our hands. We massage the soap onto the washing rag then prepare to wash our face. It must always be the face first and not the body. The body is always the filthiest part of us humans.


We use glycerine soap. Other soaps can irritate our skin and destroy good bacteria that our skin needs to fight away infections. We could get a fungal infection from using those. We either use glycerine soap or aqueous cream on our skin.


When we grew older, we felt comfortable walking around naked in the house. We’d even change our song playlists while naked. Wash the first half of our bodies then after we’re finished, go to the sitting room and turn up the volume.


We can’t complain and say that we had a rough childhood because of not having a bathtub or shower. It was normal. At a certain age, we were never lazy about taking baths but looked forward to taking them, even twice daily.


Right when we are washing our vagina, we must be careful not to use soap. No matter what they have told us about the vagina, do not use soap. Water will do its natural job. We can pour a pinch of salt in it, to rinse the vagina. Sometimes, to save electricity we cannot rinse our vaginas with two waskom’s worth of water. When we are done, our filth will be left all over the waskoms. Our soaps would have turned the water to a greyish brown. We would have to wash that grime off and flush it down the toilet. We would switch off the music then sit on the couch to apply moisturizer onto our skins. We would put on some clothes then go make some food. It would just be us and our thoughts. We would think of what to watch on television or what to write for a poem. Poems used to appeal to us back then.


My inspiration was my boyfriend. I wrote only sad things about him. My loneliness was reflected. A part of me enjoyed being alone. If I was not alone I would never have kept this memory of waskoms, or the dirty faces of criminals.


I have wondered if some of the criminals have taken a bath. In my township, no one had qualms with looking unkempt. Unkempt was the signature of my people. They did not like taking baths just like they did not like getting an education. Very few of them liked taking baths, and they were all girls.


It is a shame if a girl does not take a bath. It is taboo. A girl must know at an early age how to use her waskom. She is the caregiver of the family. She must, at all times, be put together. That is why when girls become grandmothers they go through the most. They can’t bathe themselves. They wear the same clothes again and again and walk around smelling urine.


Boys are not under any pressure to be clean or educated. When they have a job, they will try to be clean all the time. But, when they are amaphara, they could wear the same clothes every day and spend their days smoking.


I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have sex with them. So, I stayed a virgin until I was twenty-one. My first boyfriend was iphara, but he cleaned up very well when he got a job. He used to say that his problem was that he couldn’t afford soap all the time. I found this such a pity.


I liked my boyfriend better when he shaved his head. When he had his hair he looked like a hungry chicken. That is why I cheated on him. I cheated on him with a lover from Facebook. I could call him my cyber boyfriend, I guess.


At the boarding house where he came to meet me, there was a shower there. I remember how his essential oils masked the air. His brown skin was soft like a baby’s skin. He said he used baby oil. I liked touching him, kissing him, and feeling his skin on my tongue. 


The second time I saw him; I took a trip to Johannesburg and went to his place. I showered using his Sunlight green soap. He said he liked it because it is good for the skin and he had been using it since childhood. I applied coconut oil on my skin and then joined him in bed. I wanted to know if he loved me. All he said was that we were not dating.


When he fell asleep, I ran the hot tub. I entered the tub and let the fumes massage my body. I enjoyed this sort of spa treatment. I wished I could stay in that tub forever. But I thought of him, lying there, in the next room.


I started singing to myself like I belonged there. I made sure that he could hear me. I wanted him to know how good of a singer I was. Maybe this would attract him to me. Maybe he would change his mind about us. I dried myself up with a towel then got dressed. I slowly crept next to him, silently.


After our break-up, I dreaded the task of putting on the kettle and waiting for the water to boil. Taking the waskom and rinsing it before use, then rinsing it again afterward. I didn’t want to do it anymore. I realized that what attracted me to my ex-cyber boyfriend was the fact that his house had a bathtub. I wondered why we couldn’t get one.


Using a waskom is my dance. It is to stand on one leg to reach my other foot with my hand. It is to wriggle my buttocks as I wash my back. I have less than what others have, and yet I am expected to look the same – clean.

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