Coming Full Circle: Bucket baths at IFC


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Bucket bath 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.


David Lawrence

Communications Consultant

Join the Conversation

September 01, 2010

Hello! I find your story interesting and entertaining ^__^

just wanted to ask, how is it you got into this kind of work? I'd love to work w/ an organization like WB, or non-profit and travel at the same time. I know this is a very common question, but I just wanted to ask since you seem like a seasoned bound for something else?

thank you so much! =]

Shaela Rahman
September 08, 2010

Oh those mandi baths in Aceh...sigh, those were the times. I remember my first mandi experience - this monster cement tank that took up most of the guesthouse bathroom, filled to the brim with freezing water and replete with dead mosquitos floating on the surface - made me quite rethink any inclination toward cleanliness. But Dave, why not avail yourself of the showers with hot water tanks we installed in the IFC office/guesthouse to save our successors such as yourself from the fate of the malevolent mandis?

September 28, 2010

For me, an Indonesian used to "mandi" for most of my life until a few years before joining WBG, the comment from Shaela is a bit bitter, and perhaps lacks empathy.

You should appreciate the culture of mandi, the way local people store water to clean themselves, in places where they have to pump for the water themselves (no water company) or even go kilometers away to get it.

Besides, in a tropical, hot and humid place like Indonesia, you waste a huge amount of energy resources for hot showers?

I thought you're supposed to fight against poverty.