“I’m a popsicle!” Britani shouts cheerfully at me from the doorway to their portion of the home. Britani will turn three in a few weeks. She’s wrapped up in a towel and her hair is still dripping, slicked back as one of her sisters tugs a comb through it aggressively. Her teeth are chattering while she laughs in a high-pitched giggle.
“Why are you a popsicle?” I ask.
“Because I just took a bath!” she breaks into giggles. “I’m freezing!” Britani hates taking baths unless the water is warmed up for her. Today she has to bathe and get dressed up, though, because she is going to the clinic with her mom. She is full of bubbly giggles and laughter, talking with exaggerated expressions that strike me as unbearably cute, but have no effect on the rest of her family. Before I leave for work, she asks me to take a photo of her all dressed up and ready to go out. She adorns her outfit with a white washcloth tucked into her jeans to add a stylish flourish.
The reason she’s a popsicle, of course, is because the water is frigid, poured in bowlfuls from a large, 55-gallon blue plastic drum. The drum resides next to the toilet and is filled every morning by a hose connected to one of the spigots in the front of the home. This huge drum (estañon?) is filled each morning, sometimes more than once a day, and used for bathing and flushing the toilet. No one explained these processes to me, which were different in the home than in other places I’d lived. Flushing the toilet is done by scooping a bowlful of water, holding it high above the toilet, and expertly slinging it into the bowl so the gravity creates pressure in the tube and carries the toilet water underground and into the large cement pipe a few meters away, which dumps it straight into the river a couple dozen meters from the house. The cement pipes were just recently installed – about a year ago, and everyone’s waste water is carried to the river through the pipes. Water used for cooking, cleaning, and bathing passes through the home in an uncovered trench and out into the street, where it joins greywater from other homes in another uncovered dirt trench on its way to the river.