Friday, 7 November 2008

Water Of Life

The water man came the night before last.

Good luck seems to come in fits and starts here. We seem to go through long, difficult stretches with nothing but work, problems, and squabbling, then several good things will happen, one after another in a dizzying rush. But just as there is no cloud without a silver lining, so, it seems, is there no silver lining without a cloud. Every good thing that happens to us here seems to be followed by a not-so-good thing. Sometimes our life seems like the ultimate good news/bad news joke.

We've had water problems since almost the day we arrived. To begin with, the showers in our house had no stalls in them so the water went everywhere. Then there was no hot water and all that came out of the taps was barely lukewarm. Finally, even the lukewarm water stopped and we were left with cold showers every night. Then the water stopped altogether. For several days, we all cleaned our feet with bottled water and went to bed grubby.

Our house, it turned out, had a number of other problems too, though the rent was comparatively high. The gas leaked and the stove could not be turned on without a significant amount of trouble. The electric circuits tripped out at the drop of a hat. The oven tended to burn everything you put into it. One of the rooms got so hot during the day that the airconditioner had to be kept on 24/7 to keep it cool -- an expensive practice in a country that gets as hot as it does here. There was no dining room table, so meals had to be consumed on a plastic table outside. One of the rooms did not have a proper bed or any other furniture.

So we moved to a cheaper place where the water supply seemed secure. The first night we stayed there, we all enjoyed a cold shower, though we had to keep it down to one minute per person, ever-mindful of the possibility that it might soon run out. Who would have thought that a cold shower could feel so luxurious?

That morning the taps in our house let out their last pitiful drops of water. The one in the kitchen was the last one to give out, but before we'd had the chance to start on the breakfast dishes, it emitted a gasping sound and a few squirts and sputters of water -- then nothing. We could not wash our clothes or even our hands. The toilets would not flush. When we checked our tank, we saw that it was empty. When we asked when the next delivery would be, nobody could give us an answer.

At work, I was far too busy to do anything about this until the last minute. Fortunately, someone knew someone else who had a number. This someone knew someone who was prepared to make an emergency delivery -- for a rather high price, of course. By that time, though, we would have paid just about anything for a halfway decent shower.

Thirty minutes before the water man was due to arrive, we were outside waiting for him, flashlight in hand. Few things have looked so good to me as his truck rounding the bend, the shiny steel tank flashing as it passed under the street lights. And bless him, he even spoke English.

We watched as the water man's 13-year-old son backed the truck up to our tank, then turned off the engine, hopped out, and detached a huge hose from the side of the truck. The water man opened our tank and fit the nozzle of the hose into it. By the beam of our flashlight, we watched as the water poured out in a frothing silver stream. It was like watching an anemic person getting a transfusion; you could practically hear the tank sighing in relief and pleasure.

After the man left, we all ran into the house and flushed the toilets. The girls started washing the dishes and we all had a shower. When we tried to turn on the immersion heater, though, it tripped all the circuits and we had no electricity. The next day, we noticed that water was overflowing from our tank and creating a great lake of a puddle in which mosquitos were already beginning to collect. The town, it seemed, had finally delivered the water, only hours after our expensive emergency delivery. As usual, it was feast or famine for us. We couldn't get a tank full of water; we needed a whole flood -- and we had to pay for it, too.

My first class was at eight thirty. Preoccupied with marking papers and our electricity and water woes, I looked up in surprise when I saw my lone West African student wearing a beautiful, traditional-looking outfit.

"What's the occasion?" I asked him. "Is it your birthday?"

He smiled and shook his head. "Today I am very, very happy."


His smile widened. "I am wearing this for Obama."

Later that evening, we all watched on wide-screen t.v. as ecstatic crowds of Americans wept and cheered and hugged each other. People of all ages; people of all classes; people of all colors.

Our silver linings will always have big, fat clouds attached, but for once there wasn't a cloud in sight.


Kelly said...

Wow! Things we take for granted here...a consistent supply of running (hot and cold) water!
Very interesting post!

Charles Gramlich said...

Oddly, we had some similar problems when we first moved into our place in Abita Springs. It took us a good while but we finally got them straightened out.

Carole said...

Great post. As usual it is entertaining and thought provoking at the same time.

Tigermama said...

We`ve had some troubles but nothin` like yours. Oh my!

I`m glad your well runneth over (better late than never!). :)

Kim Ayres said...

Wonderful post, Mary :)

We were round at Dina's on Nov 5th for dinner, then all down to Kippford for the fireworks.

I was thinking of you all.

Eryl said...

You have three teenage girls and no mains water supply? Gad zooks! I don't envy you that part. Though I do envy you the living in a hot climate with piles of fresh fruit part. I guess you win some etc.

Charlie said...

"It was like watching an anemic person getting a transfusion;"

What a great metaphor!

You sound like you're describing scenes from The Poisonwood Bible, except worse: four females without water or a proper bathroom!

And I wish I could have seen the smile on that boy's face.

Jacqui said...

I agree with Kelly. I think water's at the top of the list of things we take for granted that can disappear in a snap.

I'm fascinated by the international response to Obama. I feel overwhelmed by the pressure of expectations just listening to people's hopes!

debra said...

#2 daughter is known for her incredibly luxurious (read: long) showers. We are lucky to have a well that is very productive. When I see her heading to the bathroom, I race to get there first--otherwise I will be awake for a very long time.
What a lovely story about your student's response to Obama's election. We waited in line for a long time---Steve at 6:30Am and me at 10:00AM. We have hope, something that has been missing for the last 8 years.

ChrisEldin said...

I'm sorry, but I love this!! THings happen like that for us as well. I'm glad you finally got your water though, downpour or no.

(It was truly exciting being here to witness the election. Truly gives hope - to me anyway)

Linda D. (sbk) said...

Oh man, call me princess, but I'm not sure I would survive without a hot shower.

Mary Witzl said...

Kelly -- We've come to see here that a dependable source of running water is a great thing. I never thought I took it for granted before we moved here, but in fact all of us really did.

Charles -- We're hoping that will happen for us too here! Everywhere we've lived, it's always taken us some time to get settled and find out where things were. Never has it been so hard as this place though. Or, for that matter, so expensive.

Carole -- Thank you. Whenever we're in some new spot of misery, I say to myself that I'll enjoy writing about it afterwards -- and I always do. That is a huge silver lining for me, as is the fact that there are people prepared to read what I write. By the way, I miss you; I can't get onto your blog!

Tigermama -- You've got water there in Lebanon? Lucky, lucky you! Here, our well still runneth over and the pesky mosquitoes are flourishing. What's the weather like where you are now?

Kim -- Oh, how envious I feel of you just reading about Dina's and Kippford! I'd give a lot for one of Dina's big feasts and the chance to go for a walk in Kippford with her. But I'm glad you were thinking of us -- we're thinking of you too!

Eryl -- Honey, it's no picnic. One girl HAS to wash her hair every day or she cannot venture out into the world; all of them seem to believe that oodles of hot water is their birthright. Actually, they've all been doing better than we had feared they might -- and they've definitely come to appreciate water more. I'm sending you a big virtual supply of hot weather -- and all our lemons, too!

Charlie -- Fortunately, unlike the poor folks in the Poisonwood Bible, we don't have a religious nutter of a dad to torment us and make our lives even more of a misery. Not so many snakes, either.

I wish you could have seen his smile, too. In fact, every African student on the campus -- and there are hundreds -- held his or her head a little higher. It was utterly beautiful.

Jacqui -- Yes, having clean water is such an incredible luxury!

We too have been amazed and humbled by the response to Obama. He's got one hell of a job to do, but if he can achieve even half of what people are hoping he'll manage, he will be one of our greatest presidents.

Debra -- Our kids too have spent ages in the shower, but no longer can they do this! If they learn anything here, they'll surely learn how to conserve water better. I don't recommend this method, though; it's hard on the parents!

The sense of hope is so wonderful, isn't it?

Chris -- Watching those ecstatic crowds made me yearn to be back home, cheering with them. But in a way, it is equally exciting to be overseas, witnessing the joy and excitement of non-Americans. This is a victory that has been keenly felt and appreciated all over the world. And America has never looked so good.

Linda -- Hey, we're all princesses here! Believe me, I'm dying for a good long soak in the bath, or a 15-minute shower. But I'll just have to wait a couple of years before I get to enjoy those treats again.

Kappa no He said...

Everyone of your posts has the seed of a great short story or a book! I like the image of everyone running in to flush the toilets. Priorities!


AnneB said...

Hi, Mary. Glad you're back on the water grid again. Just wanted to check in and say hello from the upper temperate zone. Most of the leaves are off our trees here (except for the Norway maples in the neighborhood; they're still gorgeous and yellow) but we still have a few hours of raking and other yard cleanup to do. The clouds are looking very Novemberish and some of them have spit snow instead of rain, but it melted on contact with the ground. We have had a couple of light frosts so I've had to bring the basil in and it is NOT happy about this so I think I will be making pesto later on this morning!

Mary Witzl said...

Kappa -- Believe me, with five people living in a hot apartment, flushing the toilet was a huge priority after over a day of no water! But the fact that the kids ran to the sink to wash the dishes ought to have made the Guinness Book of World Records.

AnneB -- How I yearn for a real autumn! I grew up without the real thing, but after living so many years in Japan and the U.K., I've begun to take autumn weather for granted. I never knew I'd miss raking up leaves, but your description of the Norway maples made me long for my rake and a cup of hot chocolate.

I've managed to lose your e-mail address! I've tried to find it on VK's, but to no avail (I keep getting that message that I can't look at 'just any profile') Can you send it to me in a private message?

Christy said...

I am very, very happy too.

Kara said...

wow...this story makes me want to be better about turning the tap off while i brush my teeth.

Anonymous said...

The season finale of the NHRA's Powerade High pressure blower Series began with Pedregon holding a 12-point Industrial fan edge over Wilkerson and a 39-point Industrial blower lead over Hight.A near capacity crowd -- perhaps Commercial blower sensing that the title could be decided early -- had maneuvered ugg boots around shuttered freeways and other roads closed by the Wholesale Jewelry Southern California brush fires pressure blower and arrived on time for the pressure blowers opening round.It began with Pedregon advancing fans to the semifinals by knocking out Jerry Toliver.Then Wilkerson lost blowers to 14-time champion John Force.

Mary Witzl said...

Christy -- It's nice to have the guy you voted for win, isn't it?

Kara -- Every time you brush your teeth, please think of me! And yes -- turn that water off while you're doing it. Lucky, lucky you, living in Oregon with all that great rain.

Luos -- That's a wild, wacky writing style you've got! You'd be right at home in my freshman academic writing course.