My flat in Ghana wasn’t worth writing home about: two bedrooms, two nets, one lightless toilet, a kitchen and a basic shower cubicle. However, after a nine-hour flight and a full day of travelling from London to West Africa, I was in desperate longing for a shower. As I stepped barefoot under the shower-head, I encountered my first culture shock… without realizing, I had stepped on and killed a cockroach. After the squeals of horror subsided, I turned on the tap and took refuge as I let the cold water wash away the remnants of pollution, sweat and cockroach from my body.
I quickly learnt that living in a developing country during the wet season, meant battling against the elements. With frequent storms causing flooding, power cuts, high humidity levels attracting malaria-carrying mosquitoes and unclean water; somehow, this simple and monotonous part of my hygiene routine had become an impenetrable labyrinth. I had gone most of my adult life without needing to ask for cleansing advice, yet I found myself, at the ripe old age of 24, in deep conversation with my Ghanaian colleagues about how to have a shower in Ghana. Turns out, the advice was astounding and armed with this knowledge and a pair of flip flops to protect my feet, I waltzed into my future showers like Len Goodman to a dance floor and I never looked back.
Unfortunately, on more than one occasion, I was taken ill with ‘traveler’s diarrhea’ after accidentally ingesting the poorly sanitized water and because I had insurance and access to healthcare, I was fortunate enough to be treated. Many are not so lucky and I realised how naive I had been and I promptly stopped making superfluous complaints about my showering facilities. Unclean water and lack of sanitation systems in Ghana is a severe public health concern, leaving people vulnerable to water-related illness and disease and as I traveled through rural Ghana, this issue became very apparent and it was the wake-up call I needed to change my habits. Data collected by UNICEF revealed that 76% of households are a risk of drinking water contaminated with faecal matter. Furthermore, The Ghana Demographic and Health Survey revealed that while more than half of households have a designated place for washing hands, only about one household out of five has water or other cleansing agents available at home.
Since living in the vibrant city of Accra, and witnessing first-hand, the day-to-day poverty that people are subjected to, I limit my showers to three minutes or less – cleansing my body before I enter the shower and using as little water as possible to rinse off. Although I now live in the UK and the fear of catching malaria or squishing a cockroach isn’t a concern anymore, I still believe I have a responsibility to not take my access to clean water for granted.