by Myles Abroad
Some things can be taken for granted.
A Third World Problem?
"How far would you walk for water?"
It's a slogan, advertising the plight of so many in the third world without running water. Every day, I see it plastered on billboards. On initially seeing it, I dismissed the notion with an antithetical:
'Those people never had running water. How can they miss something they've never had?'
After that, I no longer paid the advertisements any heed. Last Saturday evening was no exception.
I arrived home after a grueling day on the building site. We were behind schedule and it had been a tough week of catching up. I arrived home exhausted, kissed my wife, Mary, and endured the bubbling excitement of five boisterous boys all talking in tandem.
Mary could see how weary I was and smiled at me as I tried to keep up with the boys without blowing a fuse. When their excitement abated, she threw me a clean towel and yelled at the them.
"Your dad's tired and he needs a shower."
Grateful, I ruffled my youngest son's curls and trudged up the stairs. After a few minutes under the hot jets of water, I could feel my muscles relax. I breathed in deeply feeling somewhat revived. With a headful of shampoo, I started to hum....
The water pressure fell until only a trickle dropped from the shower head. Soapy water slipped down my forehead, into my eyes. Instinctively I shut them and groped around for the taps and turned them.
My eyes starting to sting, I stepped out of the shower and felt around for the towel, I was relieved to feel its fluffy texture on the towel rail. I wiped my face and dried myself off as best I could, although trying to dry out your hair when it's full of shampoo is not something I would recommend.
"Mary, what happened to the water?" I said as I walked into the kitchen. Mary wasn't there, but Kevin, my oldest, was peeling potatoes. He looked up and frowned.
"Mom went next door to borrow a pan of water to cook dinner."
"Is it just our water then?" I asked as I turned on the kitchen faucet. Instead of a jet of fresh water, I only heard a deep gurgle.
Mary entered the kitchen carrying an empty pan.
"Hi, Dan. They don't have any water next door either. It seems the whole street is out." She looked at me and laughed then. "You still got suds in your hair."
I didn't think it was funny, though. I bit back a bitter reply and then heard someone attempting to flush the downstairs toilet.
The bathroom door opened and Joe walked out. "Crap, Dad! The toilet won't flush and I can't even wash my hands!"
I hadn't thought of that. I walked into the bathroom and gagged at the noxious smell. I looked in the toilet, shuddered, put the lid down and tried to milk the empty cistern into working. Disgusted, I opened the window and shut the door, wishing I could tape it off like a crime scene.
"Alright, the downstairs toilet's off limits until the water comes back on." I looked at the dinner preparations and then glanced at Mary. "Guess we better go get some bottled water."
"I can do that, Dan. Why don't you and the boys go down to the gym and take showers? I'll bring Kevin with me."
An hour later, we returned to an empty house, frustrated. The gym was closed due to the water outage. After another hour, Mary and Kevin came home.
"Where were you guys?" I asked.
"We had to drive all over town. Bottled water was sold out everywhere. Sounds like whole town's water supply is cut off until tomorrow. I ended up driving into Bedford."
I gaped at her. That was ten miles away.
She had bought 20 litres of water, a lot of drinking water we normally didn't need to buy. When I started to think about all we had to do with it, though, I realised how little it was. We needed to ration it wisely.
Having put some aside for cooking and drinking, I heated some of it and filled a bucket. I was finally able to rinse my hair with it and then each of the boys had a wash. By the time we were finished it was a grim looking soup which we were able to dispose of by using it to flush the downstairs toilet.
That evening, after the dishes had been washed and the boys had gone to bed Mary looked at the empty containers. She sat down next to me and wearily leaned against me.
"That's all the water gone and I didn't get to have a wash."
I remembered hearing a story about a woman in Namibia who walked eight miles daily to fetch enough water for her family's needs. The last thing she would do with the filthy water before she watered her vegetables with it, was to wash herself. That wasn't going to be my wife's, plight. I stood up and pulled an unopened five-litre drum from behind the couch and brought it over to the stove to heat for her.
"I saved this for you, Mary."
Sunday morning I woke to the gurgling and spitting of the toilet cisterns. The water was running again.
"Thank God for running water!"
The next day, on my way to work, I took note of the charity organisation's number who was campaigning for water relief in third world countries. I phoned them and signed up for a monthly donation. On the other end of the phone, the man started to chuckle after I'd given my details.
"Donations have spiked today and they all seem to be coming from the same place."
I guess I wasn't the only one deeply affected by our water shortage.