Friday, May 3, 2013

The Body Electric

It’s official: I passed another stage in Peace Corps Paraguay blogging. I passed the “Sorry I haven’t written in a while, but my computer died” milestone.

Paraguay is murder on electronics. In the not quite two years since we arrived in the heart of South America, we have managed to destroy more gadgets than either of us had previously in our combined half century of living in America.

In Memoriam:
  • 1 MacBook Pro internal hard drive
  • 1 MacBook Pro internal DVD drive
  • 1 MacBook Pro touchpad
  • 2 external hard drives (including one specially deigned for “tough” living)
  • 2 usb hub extenders
  • 1 usb modem
  • Countless thumb drives
  • 1 iPod nano
  • 1 Sandisk mp3 player
  • 1 food processor
  • 1 electric water kettle
  • 1 double hot plate
  • 3 fans

We’ve also rewired every outlet in the house, replaced the resistance coil in our shower head four times, the blender is on the fritz, the oven shocks me if I use it after a rain storm, the computer battery holds a quarter of its original charge, and my cell phone only has a few calls left until it dies completely.

Perhaps I ran through that list a little briskly. Yes, I included our shower head in an inventory of troubled household appliances with an electrical component. No foolin’, sometimes my shower electrocutes me.

Many advertising campaigns suggest that a certain product or event will wipe out any previously held ideas pertaining to said product or event--generally in a positive way. This mini-SUV will reinvent your definition of a family car. This spa package will reinvent your definition of Wisconsin Dells. These soapy gloves will reinvent your definition of giving the dog a bath. Peace Corps pushes you to reinvent your definition of a hot shower.

In those precarious months before we left for Peace Corps, I savored every drop of hot water I came across. Knowing I might spend the next two years bathing in a bucket, I lingered a little longer in the shower and read books in the tub. Imagine my wide eyed surprise when Kevin and I arrived at our training host family’s home to find our very own shower complete with a fancy tank water heater. Granted some days I could see my breath as I washed my hair, but glorious running water could do no wrong!

Most of our fellow trainees used--in however a bewildered state--an electric shower head similar to the one we have in our current house.

In the United States, we spend a lot of time teaching our children that water and electricity do not mix. Between junior high science classes and chain emails perpetuated by our mothers, most Americans don’t feel great about introducing an electrical current into our showers. Many a Peace Corps Paraguay blog post/Facebook status update/twitter feed include profanity laced tirades questioning the safety/sanity of this bathing system.

Wikipedia claims that, until the Three Gorges Dam showed up, Paraguay’s Itaipu produced more hydroelectric energy than anyone else, worldwide. Perhaps this power over power gave Paraguay a certain boldness when it comes to mixing water and electrical current. Or maybe Paraguay’s relaxed attitude extends to an irreverence toward laws of thermodynamics. Either way, if you are a Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay and you have a shower and that shower occasionally gets marginally warm chances are you also have uninsulated wires running through your shower head.

And after nearly two years of working with this arrangement I can confidently say, it’s sort of genius.

Home, sweet shower head

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