#10 Hot Water

April 20, 2011 § 1 Comment

Timor Leste is by comparison a small country, but nestled within its varied geography lie a host of diverse micro-climates that provide a plethora of temperatures for the expat to adjust to. Timor is unique in that traversing a small distance one is able to shift from scorching heat to mild temperate alpine climes that may become surprisingly cool at night.  One particular luxury that most in such areas are not privy too, is access to warm water for washing.  For the vast majority of malai who do not live in such temperatures but instead in the fetid tropical blanket known as Dili, hot water sits remarkably high on the list of attributes they would like their habitation to be endowed with.

More important than good governance

Expats are adroit at developing somewhat paradoxical temperature regulating body systems. Although tropical heat is insufferable to them causing profuse sweating (and swearing), they seem to thrive in hot aquatic environments. Dili is a city where the temperature rarely falls below 27 C at night, yet a large number of malai take great comfort in their bathroom’s hot water system or at least excited at the prospect of using one. Although the majority of these hot water systems are instant electrical boilers that barely spray anything more forceful than a small child urinating, it does nothing to dampen their use or expat’s enthusiasm for them.  Because of their design and Dili’s water bore system tapped by electrically powered pumps, they give the discerning malai two temperature options: weak and tepid or volcanic hot dribble. To the average expat nothing is quite like the exhilarated sensation of morning refreshment that comes with scalding themselves with a dribble of lava like hot water while the temperature outside has already climbed close to 30 C.

"Boy does this heat make me want to take a hot shower"

Often this is accompanied by a ritual of uncomfortable squirming so as to rinse shampoo out of the eyes, while tip toeing dangerously around the shower area attempting only to expose parts of the skin yet accustomed to the sting of liquid fire. Recent power outs have made the act of showering more interesting as the hot shower more often than not lacks the accompaniment of a mandi.

The hot shower as a positioning feature in the expat landscape, really becomes worthy of note once examined through a framework that allows the understanding of it as an integral part of socio-political sign-posting of the malai class hierarchy

Nothing denotes class politics within the malai world better than the strata exemplified by the access to a hot water system.  For the average volunteer the mandi usually proves sufficient for their community development fantasies and in some cases may be deemed to clean for the adequate levels of 3rd world suffering desired. Though it may at first require some adaption, the mandi represents to the expat part of the quintessential  every-dayness  of Timor life, and hence their participation in a daily washing ritual that is shared by their local community demonstrates to the malai the ease of their adaptation to local customs and challenging environments.  This strata of malai are not adverse to the careful placing of a snide brusque remark about the excesses of hot water showers, and verbosely pronounce their preference for the invigoration of a cold water mandi visit upon returning from using the bathroom at another malai’s home.

"Youre pretty much living out the plot to Blood Money 2 but utilising hot water instead"

The expat bourgeois are distinguished by their access to the previously mentioned household electrical water system. Usually its output is sufficiently inept to assist the bourgeois malai in framing their development experience through a lens of selfless giving and endurance under trying conditions, yet it  also provides the expat  with notions of comfort “civilization”. Indeed regularly in the afternoon, the sweat, dirt, fatigue and humidity of blisteringly hot 10 hour mountain bike ride are washed firmly away for the bourgeois malai by a scalding yet weak dripping showerhead. They emerge from such cleansing fresh and ready to take development challenges full on, or stop at Castaways for a pizza.

However, the true upper tier of the expat echelons are those that lay claim to a hot water boiler that is usually supported by a generator in times of power outs. These are usually confined to compound lodgings where the excessive use of air-conditioning may warrant the need for hot water lest the expat suffer pneumonia of similar health impacts post-bathing. Competition over bathroom bragging rights may be fierce at upper tier level and the addition of a bath may cement the malai as inhabiting a greater political space in the development environment.

pwned - Flawless Victory

On occasion, malai from this strata may indulge in a justifying their hot water ownership to critical, lower tier malai through an argument such as:

“My one indulgence, the one thing I can’t live without is a hot water.”

Such an argument rarely holds up to objective scrutiny as the greater majority of Dili residents demonstrate, by indeed living without hot water. More so upper tier malai often have many indulgences including cheese, frequent trips to bali, massages and a flash 4wd perhaps even with driver who can take them to Street Burger King when cooking seems to much effort to muster.

The amazement that lower tier malai will show having turned on a kitchen tap in an upper tier compound house and found hot water streaming furiously is a true wonder to behold.  It is at times such as this the expat begins to question the giddy heights of malai excess and assessing the development class system now laid bare before them.

Metaphorical photo interpretation of lower tier malai dabbling in hot water class politics

Despite their polemics to the contrary, many malai without access to such bathroom amenities over time see the opportunity of their use as a vestige of the comforts and familiarity of their home life. Therefore the lower tier malai may  slyly begin turning up at their colleagues’ houses after excessive bouts of exercise with claims of power outage in their neighbourhood and their mandi out of water, so as to gain access for a brief period to the privilege of a hot water system and fleetingly dream of class escape.

They can however dream privately in their own homes


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