When I applied for work at the International Finance Corporation way back in 1996, I had no idea that the battle against poverty would involve so many bucket baths, or that I would be taking them throughout my career.
It started with my very first assignment, in Sumy, a town of 300,000 in Ukraine. My water was heated by a frightening device, now rarely seen, called a kolonka, which was a metal box in your bathroom that heated water by gas. A good kolonka worked well; when you turned on the hot water tap, the device would fire up and provide enough hot water to take a shower or wash dishes. But my kolonka only worked if the water moved through it at a trickle, making a shower impossible. So every morning, I would slowly fill my red plastic bucket with hot water and take a bucket bath before heading off to do IFC business.
A couple years later I opened IFC's first office in Tbilisi, Georgia. Hot water was the least of my problems: there was no heat, and both water and electricity were sporadic. My water was heated in an Ariston tank, but it only worked if the water was running. And the water would only be hot if there had been electricity within a few hours of my shower. From time to time I could take a hot shower, but most of the time I had to resort to my old friend, the bucket. Sometimes, during long power outages, I would have to heat the water in a metal bucket on my kerosene stove. Inconvenient, but it worked.
In Indonesia I was luckier, although I didn't have hot water at all. I lived in an Indonesian house which had a mandi, which is a water storage basin found in almost every bathroom. You bathe with a scoop. It was a little chilly but it did the job; I was able to appear in the IFC office fresh and perky every morning.
Which brings me to the present day. Mongolia, like most countries with a Soviet heritage, relies on centrally heated water that is piped through the city. Every summer they turn it off for a month for maintenance, and it so happens that August is the special month in my neighborhood. So now, near the end of my IFC career, I am back to where I started: the bucket.
Only now it's blue, not red. Some things have changed after all.