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The Art of the Ice-Cold Shower

Dispatch India 2014: Traveling for the Institute

A recent event (this morning) in a far away land (a jungle near the Burmese border) prompted the writing of this log entry. It’s winter here, lows in the 40s. I flew 32 hours, counting layovers, from Houston, was picked up by my regular and able driver, Alem (rhymes with “call ’em”), then took another 2.5 hour drive out of the bustling city of Jorhat (sounds like “pour hot”) past three Indian military installations, through a crowded open vegetable market (with all the attendant horn-honking and hand-gesturing), across a couple of large tea plantations, and into the exotic countryside to reach my destination. How’s that for a 102-word sentence (I was trained by the Apostle Paul)?

As Associate Director for World Hope’s international Bible Institute, I am charged with, among other things, the oversight of our Bible College in Tuli (too-lee’), Nagaland, India. I have come to formally install the College Principal I appointed when I was here last June. I am also here to untangle some messy legal matters related to the ownership and use of our 60-acre campus. I will have to meet with the local Village Council on this one. We have squatters.

The College, which sits atop a lush green hilltop deep in the Naga (as in “naugahyde”) jungle, enjoys 360 degree vistas that (I know it’s clichéd) catch your breath. The early mist hangs low in the cool of the morning between lofty peaks. The only sounds are the occasional chirp of a songbird, the intermittent drip of the dew from the leaves of the tall rubber trees scattered about, and my own shuffling footfalls as I move gently along a scenic path, careful not to disturb the birth of this new day. Surreality. Bliss. Paradise.

The College offers a full 4-year Bachelor’s degree in Theology (BTh), as well as a 2-year certificate program, and has 30 full-time students who live on campus and receive their education free of charge, thanks to our donors. We need to expand the facilities to grow the college, so I am also here to look into some construction projects and explore the possibility of launching a sustainable farming operation on the campus. I plan to attend to a few other items as well.

I travel quite a bit. My Scheduling and Events Coordinator (I call her the Calendar Nazi), Crystal, tells me that I only traveled 91 days in 2013 (India, of course, Peru, Indonesia, Hawaii, and Africa a couple of times, plus domestic travel – a lite year). Needless to say, I am an experienced traveler. I have slept in jungle huts and Ritz-Carleton suites. I have traveled by Amazon rickshaw and private jet. I have met Maasai warriors (I was made one, they call me White Rhino) and U.S. Presidents (well, one, anyway). In all my travels, I have developed an impressive set of survival secrets. I’m self-taught, as they say. Among these artful skills, if you will, is a particularly essential one that has kept me fastidiously festooned (that is, impeccably attired and well-groomed – or, looking good, for you hicks and rednecks out there) on five continents. What was once hidden, I now make known to you: the art of the ice-cold shower. No one who regularly circumnavigates this celestial ball can ever be sure that his next shower will be a hot one. I have perfected this talent, and, oddly, thought of you just this morning when I was in the very act of exercising it with all the unflappable matter-of-factness of a Russian masseuse. The thought occurred to me, “Why keep this genius to myself?” So, here we are. Now, this will take some practice, but with time, you too can master the art of the ice-cold shower.

Step One: The Initial Commitment

Start with a little self talk. Let your vanity run wild. What will people think if you don’t shower? What if someone calls on you to give a talk at the UN? What if you have to take an elevator ride with the Spice Girls (I know, I couldn’t think of anyone better)? What if that special someone drops in for a visit? What if Lorne Michaels calls and needs you to fill in for the Weekend Update? You can talk yourself into this. There are ways. Be creative.

Can’t get your pride in gear? Stiffer measures are in order. Try talking yourself into it by sniffing your feet. Walk or jog for about 15 minutes before trying this one, but it’s a winner. Your feet are your private mine shaft canaries. If they smell like dead birds, it’s a cinch you’ll go for it. Still no luck? Use one of the sweaty socks you just took off as a chaser. Cup the business end of the sock over your nose and mouth and run around for a couple of minutes. You get the idea.

Still having trouble? Sniff your armpits. Take off your shirt, expel the air out of your lungs, close your mouth, and raise your arms high. Snap your head in the direction of one of those gnarly emitters of the salty and the pungent, and briskly inhale, snorting through both nostrils, alternating casually between armpits, to get the full effect. Still not working? Try to figure out which armpit is the ripest. It may take several rounds of this to fully convince you. But, it works every time.

Step Two: The Pre Game Pep Talk

As soon as you have talked yourself into it, reality sets in. You turn on the faucet and hand test the water. Aha! It’s much icier than you thought. Frost forms on your eyelids and brow. What if you get hypothermia and die? What if all your hair freezes and breaks off? You can think of a million reasons to change your mind. But, you can do this. As the Queen says, “Stay calm. Carry on.” Instead of freaking, keep reinforcing the benefits. Keep reminding yourself how refreshed and utterly alive you will feel when the deed is done. Your goose pimples will look like ostrich skin boots. That’s a plus. Keep trying new ideas. You’ll think of something.

Step Three: The Tribal Ritual

I prefer the guttural scream. Something like a high-pitched “Aaaaaaaah, Aaaaaaaah!” at the top of your lungs will almost certainly do the trick. It’s my signature move. I have also used the “Yaaaaaaaah, Yaaaaaaaah!” approach, which does nicely, as well. Adding the “y” sound gives it a little something extra; a little more oomph, and a little more flair. We could all use a little more flair, don’t you think? The key here is to give it all you’ve got. If you are in the jungle, this is perfectly acceptable. If you are somewhere that someone might call the cops, just scream into your towel. But, don’t overdo this step. One or two quick screams will get the job done. If you are light-headed and out of breath when you step into the frigid spray, you could pass out and collapse onto the shower floor. Not to worry. The glacial waterfall rushing down upon you will snap you out of it straight away, but you may have broken something in the fall. Imagine calling for help in a naked, goose-pimpled, blotchy-dimpled, broken extremity condition. Let’s not go there. Others have tried the trusty shadow boxing technique, and still others what I call the flimsy dance (throw your head back, dangle your arms, and run in place) with some success. But, nothing delivers real anxiety relief like the guttural scream.

Step Four: The Insertion

Now, here’s the tricky part. Don’t jump in all at once. I suggest washing the hair (or head, in my case) first. Sort of gets you into it. Wash and rinse. Next, grab the soap, wet something, and wash and rinse it. Then move to the next part, wash and rinse it, and so on. In a couple of minutes, you will have washed and rinsed your whole body. If you get impatient and just jump in all at once, there are only two possible outcomes. One, you will stiffen and topple over like a possum playing, well, possum, mouth agape, eyes wide, pupils dilated. Hypothermia will be your certain end. The other is you will add completely new guttural screams to your repertoire as you run stark naked streaking through the area, mind-boggled at your own vanity and stupidity. The shower will never happen, and you will be mentally scarred for life, refusing ever to shower again under any conditions. Trust me. I’m the professional here. Wash one part at a time. It’s how it’s done.

Step Five: The Final Rinse

By now, you have more or less adjusted to the cold water, and it has become almost tolerable. You can finally jump into the chilly downpour, like you’ve strangely wanted to all along, and get one good all-over rinse before grabbing the towel. To dry off, I suggest starting with the head, just like normal. You can handle this step. You’ve been here before. But, be careful reaching for that towel. Don’t bend over more than about 15 to 20 degrees. The pads of your feet will now be numb, and your footing won’t be sure. Let’s not have an unsightly calamity on the shower floor.

Step Six: The Extraction

Breathe. It’s almost over. Holding your breath will only exacerbate the pain. Remember Lamaze class? Control your breathing and you control your pain. Your eyesight may be somewhat diminished at this point. It’s normal. You’re freezing. Your glasses are on the counter, but the bigger problem is the lack of steam on the mirror, even if you can’t see well. You are going to get an eyeful of your physique as you step out of the shower. For some, this could be the most brutal step in the process. Focus on the towel. Ignore the mirror. And, try not to think about the indignity of it all. You can take it from here. You’ve done it. You’ve mastered the art of the ice-cold shower. I’m so proud.

If you enjoyed this helpful travel hint, leave me a comment. I would love to hear from you.

Like it? Don’t like it? Leave me a comment!

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3 comments on “The Art of the Ice-Cold Shower

  1. I tried this in Kosovo some 14 years ago. I am not a master yet. Two words: baby wipes. You can sit on them and warm them up a little and you’re good!

  2. You have described this very well, but having shared a hut on mission trips with others who also took cold showers, I have come to enjoy the “Tribal Ritual” sounds as varied and entertaining.

  3. I’ll try it! The cold shower is my least favorite part of mission work and so far I’ve only experienced in Haiti. While the Haiti climate is at least warm, the shower is always cold. I just can’t get used to it!

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