In America, we don’t worry much about water. We can turn on the faucet in various places in our house and have unlimited clean water flowing out. Heck, the water we poop in is clean enough to drink. Some people go crazy and buy bottled water or a purifier, because they think the tap water is harmful or tastes funny. But we really don’t worry much about water. It’ always there.
In Africa, it’s a whole different story. Water consumes a lot of my brain power, because it’s not easy to find clean water. I don’t have running water in my home, but there is a tap in the yard. This is great, but I can’t drink the water. First of all, it’s borehole water, which is NOT clean and requires and lengthy process of boiling, cooling, and filtering. And even if I do that, the water in the yard has a high salt/calcium/lime content, so it tastes horrible. I use the yard tap for washing, cleaning, and when I make coffee/tea etc, but not much for drinking.
For drinking water, my family brings me a 25L “scoop” of water (really big, heavy jug) once a week or so. I tried in earnest to find where they collect the water from and do it myself at the beginning of service, but my family sends the kids out to do it a few times a week, and eventually I just accepted that they wanted to do this for me. This water is from municipality taps around the village, and my family takes a few scoops and the wheel barrow and collect water. I should boil and filter this water too, but I usually just filter it.
Sometimes, the family’s yard tap doesn’t work. This happens on a fairly regular basis. It usually is only out for a few hours, or maybe a day or two. But it can be bad for me if I haven’t stored enough water in my room, and therefore can’t wash, bathe, or do anything else. Sometimes, the municipality taps don’t work, which worries me even more because I HAVE to drink water, even if I can’t bathe or wash dishes. So I always keep a bucket full of this water in my room, for emergencies. I also stockpile filtered water in bottles at the beginning of the week, and try to always have a few liters, again, in case of emergencies.
I always carry a bottle of water with me to school, as the school only has borehole water, and I have no way of purifying it there. Sometimes I am extra thirsty, or it is extra hot, and I drink all my water. Then I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. I can either risk dehydration, which can come on very quickly and be dangerous in this climate, or I can risk a parasite by drinking the borehole water. I always choose to drink the borehole water, and sometimes I pay later. That’s Peace Corps.
The rains are coming, which means soon our water barrels will be full of rain water which drains from the roof. This water will definitely need to be boiled, filtered, and possibly chlorinated because there are all sorts of critters that scurry around on the roof.
Water is one of my biggest sources of stress. The worst feeling in the world is walking up to the tap, turning it on, and having nothing come out when you have unwisely not stockpiled any water. It’s happened a few times, and I think I’ve learned my lesson and have been keeping water stored up in my room.
Next time you turn on that tap, be grateful that’s all you have to do. All things considered, I have it easy compared to most of the developing world, even though it probably seems complicated to you.