Years go by, technologies evolve, and even Belarus’ moniker ‘last Europe’s dictatorship‘ is gradually becoming history and only summer’s hot water shutdowns are immutable.
Sudden phone calls, the rumble of buckets, crowds in public gyms and bathhouses. The dreaded annual switch-off of municipal hot water is a sure sign that summer has really come to Belarus.
For two-three weeks, somewhere between May and September, local officials shut off hot water to various neighborhoods to clean and repair cities’ central heating system and fix aging pipes.
The ritual shutdown dates back to the Soviet era and has become a notorious pain in the *ss for those who cannot afford a boiler. They stoically accept their fate and come out with ingenious ways out.
Why does this happen?
The explanation for why exactly hot water is turned off is pretty simple. In Belarusian cities, heat and hot water are provided centrally rather than from individual hot water heaters.
Obviously, they can’t cancel the heating service for a couple of weeks to repair creaking infrastructure after an extremely long and cold winter for the autumn-winter-spring months.
The water shutdown mechanism is smooth. Hot water is shut off at different sectors of the city and at different times so that residents of at least one section could enjoy warm showers and baths.
Residents and business affected are usually warned beforehand about when their hot water will be shut off, so they could mentally and physically prepare for two weeks of freezing hell.
Tips form locals
So what do people do? Some turn their walrus-mode on and have icy showers real quick, they run the water, get wet, shut the water, get soaped, run the water, get rinsed, kill the water, get dry.
As you can imagine, this option is not for the faint-hearted!
In this period, friendships and close family relations are of particular importance. The more friends and family members you have the higher is a chance you will stay clean and happy those days.
All you need to do is to open your contact book and phone round until you’ll find anyone who has hot water and ready to invite you to have a quick shower. This is when a burst of solidarity usually pops up.
Others recommend good old boiling water in stove-top saucepans and kettles. Sure, one will have to bear in mind to set the morning alarm a half-hour early to boil yourself a nice, hot bath.
The break in hot water also revives another traditionally Belarusian tradition – going to the public bathhouse… and its more modern version if going to the gym, swimming pools and water parks.
For those who can’t stand even temporary discomfort, this option is your savior. Invest in your own electric boiler once and let the annual hot water shutdown be a bad memory.
And of course, there’s that subset who don’t whine and complain, annoy friends with their calls or juggle with hot pots, they would rather just let hygiene slide.
How does it affect travelers?
The hot water service shut off don’t usually affect travelers staying in hotels. Most hotels in large Belarus cities have their own water heaters to provide hot water to guests year round.
If you are concerned about not having hot water during your stay in a hotel in summer, contact the hotel prior to booking your stay to avoid the element of an unpleasant surprise.
Couchsurfers and travelers staying in private residences should be prepared to may or may not have to deal with the annual hot water shut off, depending on how lucky they are.
In affluent or major metropolitan areas, apartments may be outfitted with water heaters, or flat owners may have purchased heaters for themselves. Anyway, it’s better to know in advance and figure out a plan B.
Featured image: hifivebelarus.com