September 21, 2006

Day 5: No Water

A common saying here in La Ceiba is "We can live without electricity, but we can't live without water." I don't agree with this. We can get water in buckets and bring it here. We even have a big water truck coming daily to fill the cisterns for the people who have them. (Not us, boohoo.) We have to buy purified water for drinking and cooking anyway.

But when the electricity is out, I can't use the stove or, more importantly, the computer, or turn on lights, or make a pot of coffee, and I have to worry about all of the food in the refrigerator and freezer spoiling. So if I have to choose, I'd choose electricity over water.

Okay. That's my general attitude − but at Day 5 of No Water, I'm starting to lose patience.

The first couple of days, lack of water is a good excuse not to wash the dishes. After that, there's no way around it. They have to be done. I fill the sink part way with cold water and boil some water to add to the sink. Hardly anyone washes dishes with hot water. The maids (when I'm lucky enough to get one) always complain about it. But I don't feel like the dishes are really clean unless the water is hot.

I started noticing 'things' floating in the buckets of water. Dirt doesn't float, neither does sand. Oh, I don't even want to think about what that might be. So today I used purified water to rinse the dishes after I washed them. But then, I started thinking that any bacteria in the water would not be killed by just adding hot water to the cold, so now I guess I'll boil all the water to wash the dishes.

For handwashing, I keep some containers of Wet Ones antibacterial wipes in the kitchen and bathrooms or we wash our hands by pouring water from a pitcher. It always helps to have someone to pour the water for you because it's really hard to wash your hands one hand at a time. Try it sometime.

For bathing, we take bucket baths. Everyone in Central America knows what that is, but for the privileged masses, here is a description: You put a 5-gallon bucket of water in the shower. You take a plastic bowl, scoop up some water and pour it all over yourself. Then you wash, then you rinse with water scooped up and poured from the bowl. I need a minimum of two gallons. Shampooing is similar and boy, do you need a lot of bowlfuls of water to rinse out all that shampoo.

I think Gardener in Mexico mentioned that if you keep the bucket of water in the sun that you can actually take a warm bucket bath. It is so hot here that the cool water usually is not too uncomfortable except for shampooing. Brrr! It makes me shiver to pour cold water over my head.

Morning activities: I always keep a liter bottle of purified water in the bathroom to rinse my mouth after brushing my teeth. Most people think that's a little extreme, but you never know what kind of crud is going to come out of the faucets. Better safe than sorry, I say.

For washing up, I use the plastic bowl of water, pouring it into my hand and splashing it on my face. I wear contact lenses and I don't trust this water we have been getting, so I've been rinsing my contacts with purified water.

Toilets: We pour water into the toilet bowl or the tank to flush the toilets. This is disgusting, but we only flush them a couple of times a day or when necessary, if you know what I mean. Poor El Jefe's back is breaking from hauling eight 5-gallon buckets of water every two days and then moving them around the house. If we flushed every time, he would have to refill the buckets every day.

Most homes have underground or above ground cisternas (cisterns in English; usually called tinacos in Mexico and some other Central American countries). We don't. We were told that it wasn't necessary here in this colonia because we have ample water in our neighborhood well. Another big mistake. Our well does seem to have sufficient water but when the electricity is out or the pump malfunctions, there is no way to get the water from the well to our houses.

Our plan is to get one of those 500-gallon fiberglass tanks and put it on a raised platform. A pump will be required to fill the tank, but when the power goes out, gravity will provide water to our household system. How pretty that will be in the landscape. NOT!

This is definitely something that we need to get started on soon.

The worst and most annoying thing about not having running water is that I still reach for and try to turn on the faucets about 40 times a day. Every time I use the bathroom, I still try to flush the toilet − then I remember. I still try to wash my hands − then I remember. I still try to rinse the food off of dirty dishes − then I remember.

Today while washing the dishes, even though I had a pitcher of water right in front of me in the sink to rinse them, I tried to turn on the water five times.

Yesterday, I noticed that the front lawn and plants looked dry. (Yes, wouldn't you know it, it rains every day for the last four months and now that we need it, it doesn't come.) I went to the garage to get a sprinkler. I dragged over the hose cart, unwound the hose, ran the hose from the cart behind some shrubs and connected it to the faucet. It wasn't until after I turned on the faucet and listened to the sound of sucking air that I remembered that WE DON'T HAVE WATER.

After drafting this article, I went out to check on what is left of the vegetable garden. I thought the soil looked a little dry so I went over and turned on the soaker hoses. Sucking air sound. Once again, I forgot that WE DON'T HAVE WATER.

Running water − It's a hard habit to break!
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