Sunday, April 08, 2007


Water looks different running out of the faucet when you know that it has an end. In fact, the whole idea of a faucet begins to seem ridiculous. You cannot see how much water you have used or how much is left; it almost implies the existence of an endless source.

Water has been one of the greatest challenges of living in San Ramon. Endless, clean, temperature controlled water does not exist. Having access to water is not a given, and clean, drinkable or hot water is a luxury. In the rainy season, the city water is turned off during heavy rains to prevent contamination (in November we lost water for 4 days). In the summer, the water is randomly turned off during the day to conserve. We luckily have a huge cistern that automatically fills up when the water is turned back on, leaving us a reserve during the day. The issue of access to water is most difficult for those with less resources.

Cleanliness is another concern. The tap water is not potable. All the things I was used to doing mindlessly at home in the U.S. (flipping on the tap to brush my teeth, washing vegetables, grabbing a glass of water) suddenly become more complicated (my sensitive stomach requires me to be even more cautious). Water that is consumed has to be purified water (we buy big jugs every week) or it has to be boiled. For me, dishes have to be completely dry before being used. Washing fruit and vegetable is tricky (a lot of people use bleach).

Needless to say, people are very conscious of their water consumption here. I have been catching myself more and more in the midst of wasteful North American habits. The other day I was talking to a friend as I washed the dishes. I let the water run in between soaping up. I realized my mistake when I saw her anxiously looking at the running water while trying to carry on the conversation. I feel guilty for taking water for granted and even more guilty when I feel excited about going home so I dont constantly have to worry about it.

Brad and I recently watched a documentary about global warming. One of the issues it addressed, simply put, was how access to clean water will become increasingly hard (for everyone) as global temperatures rise (for example, by causing water reserves in snow to melt). Another effect will be the rise in tropical diseases because winters are getting warmer and warmer. These kinds of documentaries have always alarmed me, but living here (in the context of these problems...tropical diseases, access to water) has put a fresh face on these environmental concerns and pushed me to think about how comfort makes us complacent.

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