Saturday, May 22, 2010

water water water

So there is an old joke I have heard a few times since entering Peace Corps, and it goes like this:

An optimist looks at a glass of water and says it’s half full.
A pessimist looks at the same glass of water and says it’s half empty.
A Peace Corps Volunteer looks at the glass and says, “Huh. That’s just about enough water to take a bath in.”

It’s funny until it starts feeling true.

Now, Nicaragua is not exactly a water-starved country if you look at it on a global scale; relatively speaking it’s far above many countries Volunteers are serving in. In fact here was the view of my back patio most of this week:

(That’s my landlady cooking breakfast for her family on the outdoor wood-fire stove, by the way.)

It is the rainy season, and this week it actually decided to rain, which means the days are disgustingly hot and humid, and then sometime between one and four in the afternoon the thunderstorms roll through intermittently until the next morning. But for most of the time I’ve been here it’s been fairly dry, which means our pila that collects rainwater from the roof has been empty and we’ve been depending entirely on the town well for our water. I am not entirely sure of the hours the well keeps – it appears to me to turn on more or less randomly, usually early in the morning but sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes every day, sometimes not. But somehow everyone figures out when it’s running and everyone brings their buckets to fill up.

For my house it isn’t so bad, since we’re right in the middle of town directly across the street from the well, but for people living on the ridge above it’s pretty tough, since water is, you know, sort of heavy and they’re hauling every bit of it they need for the day (or more) up a long, steep hill. Two weeks ago, the town tried digging a new well on the ridge, which was a big production and practically everyone turned out to look on and offer suggestions and a running commentary (which my landlady had a disgruntled conversation with me about, since the main activity here is watching everyone else walk around outside, and that afternoon there was no one for her to watch), but to no avail. They tried sinking a well in two different places, both of which were dry. I am living in one of the driest parts of a country too poor for most people to even dream about indoor plumbing, and that’s when that fact really started hitting home for me.

Well, that and the fact that I was living with a family of anywhere from four to seven or eight people that had on a good day four five-gallon buckets of clean water to use. If it was just for drinking, that wouldn’t be so bad, but when our pila is empty this is the water that gets used for everything: washing dishes, cooking, bathing, washing clothes, making the charamuscas (little popsicles in bags) that the family sells in their store.

Most people here go to the river to wash clothes and bathe, but I am leery about that a little for the cleanliness factor (this is the same river cattle tromp back and forth through all day) and a lot for the environmental factor: the part of me that clings to the principles of Leave No Trace dies a little bit at all that non-biodegradable soap going into the river.

Also the river is down a terribly steep, rocky goat path, and I can just see myself carrying a heavy bucket of wet, clean clothes up, losing my footing, and rolling all the way back down again, leaving shirts and skirts in a colorful trail behind me. That’s a persuasive argument too.

So I adapted. When I treat a bowl of water with bleach to wash my vegetables with, I reuse it to wash my dishes. I wash clothes a little at a time, and I’m getting good at it – I can do a couple of days’ worth out of a two-gallon milk jug, as long as I don’t have to wash pants. I can shower out of a little over half a bucket of water. I’m not saying this to show off (well, maybe I am, just a little); it’s what I’ve had to do to adjust, to use my fair share of water here and no more.

It’s amazing, how much you start thinking about water when it doesn’t come out of a tap and laziness is no longer an option if you want to stay even mildly clean and hydrated.

Anyway, all that musing is really just to say that I am glad it is raining this week, even if it does shut down the internet cafĂ© and mean that my first youth group meeting was completely rained out. The pila is full, our secondary water buckets are filling back up, and I can wash my jeans again without feeling like I’m using up a third of my family’s water for the day. They may never actually dry again, but I’m sure there’s another Peace Corps proverb somewhere to make me feel good and rugged about that too.

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