I’m a hand-washer. What can I say? I like to wash my hands—often. I don’t go all Jack Nicholson about it or anything, but I confess that as I make my way among Santiago’s other 6 million people every day, I really try not to think about how many hands have gone before mine, gliding along the handrails, caressing the door knobs, clutching the subway grab-poles, counting out their money, and pinching, poking, and otherwise fondling the products in the grocery store… Y’know, if you let your imagination get away from you, the whole Howard Hughes angle starts to come right into focus—No! Stop that! Get a grip…
I’m exaggerating, of course, but all this recent talk about swine flu with its corresponding and constant “wash your hands with soap” message has had me extra aware of the issue these days… Here are a few things that have gone through my mind on the subject:
When someone in Chile says Quiero lavarme las manos, (I want to wash my hands)—and they will almost always show you their hands while they say it—what that really means is that they want to powder their nose…
I was at one of Santiago’s spiffy new medical centers today and had a big surprise when I went to lavarme las manos—the water was hot! As in deliciously, wonderfully warm. So what, you ask? What’s the big deal? Hot water is rare in public places.
For that matter, most homes don’t have the hot water turned on during the day either. Instead of those big 30- or 40- or 50-gallon round-the-clock water heaters we all use in the States, Chileans, like Europeans, use something called a calefont that hangs on the wall in the kitchen or bathroom and heats the water as you use it. Most people turn it on in the morning to take showers and then turn it off for the rest of the day. So naturally, handwashing (and, it seems quite often dishwashing as well) is done with cold water.
In fact, I remember one man (educated, well-to-do) telling me he couldn’t stand washing his hands with hot water, that it was very weird, like brushing your teeth with hot water… just not done! (Others tell me they only shower with cold water, but that story’s for another day).
Did you know:
…that there is actually a Global Handwashing Day? The GHD folks (honest, I swear they really use the acronym!) are pretty worked up about it and provide all kinds of information about correct technique (ex: use soap and wash for as long as it takes to sing happy birthday) Check out the site, they’ll be happy to explain far more than you ever imagined needing to know about the fine art of handwashing. And, if this gets you excited, you too can revel with the GHD crew on Thursday, October 15, 2009.
On a more serious note (remove tongue from cheek), the folks at GHD seem to be doing wonderful work on educating people on basic health issues. Thankfully, Chile is not on the list of 73 target countries where diseases that are controllable by washing with soap, but then again neither is Mexico, the epicenter of the swine flu outbreak.