Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Need... Water....

Here in Gaborone we're experiencing something most Americans never even have to think about: water shortages!

I honestly have never given much thought at all to what life would be like without a constant and steady supply of water - water to flush the toilet, water to take a shower, water to brush my teeth, and of course water to drink. Back in our Zhanjiang days of teaching English, you couldn't drink the water or really even let it touch your skin (unless you wanted to break out violently within about two minutes of said water making contact with your unsuspecting skin). And there were some days where our apartments didn't have running water for a couple of hours at a time.... but this was mostly due to faulty plumbing and not a shortage of water. Although the water was dirty, it was there more or less consistently, unless there was a temporary problem with our pipes.

Therefore it was quite a shock today at work when I went to get a drink of water and nothing came out of the fountain. Ever adaptable (I do live in Africa, after all) I didn't let it phase me and went downstairs to try that fountain, which wasn't working either!


A little later, an all-office email went out notifying everyone that water levels were low at the Gaborone tank and therefore our building was temporarily without water.

Huh?! What do you mean there's no water? I've never heard of such a thing! In America... oh wait. This isn't America.

Botswana is experiencing a drought that's getting worse by the day. This has been an unusually dry year in a place that's already parched most of the year anyway. Although we did have some rain over the past couple of months, it hasn't been enough to replenish the low water supply which has been depleted during the year. Drought warnings have been gradually intensifying through increasingly dire media reports and a recent government restriction on home water use (no lawn watering, no swimming pool filling, etc). But naively, I didn't think that things were really "that serious" until today when I was personally affected! Apparently the government had to tap into a northern water tank to replenish the flow into Gaborone, and the water was running again after a couple of hours.

It sure made me think, though, what would I do if the water were to be cut off for a longer period of time?  Fortunately, our house is located in the upscale, central areas of town, so we would probably be the last district to go without water if it came to that. All the same, Scott and I went out today after work and stocked up on a bunch of giant water bottles just in case. Interestingly, other patrons in the grocery store looked at us like we were crazy, like they didn't have a clue on earth as to why two people would want to buy that much water. But we'll be ready! Just look in the closet in our study if you're not sure, because there is a TON of water in there just waiting to come to the rescue in the event that the water shortages affect us at home.

An hour or two without the drinking fountain is not the message I ultimately wanted to get across by posting this blog entry. What I wanted to say in writing all this about the drought is that living overseas really makes you think about what you take for granted. Water supply is one of those things - something very simple to us in the United States, something that we rarely even think twice about. When I'm overseas, I really feel that I don't need Thanksgiving as much as I do when at home to remind me of the things I'm grateful for. When I'm at home, everything comes so naturally and so easily, and it is not difficult to fall into the trap of taking so many conveniences for granted. But it is doing without (well, doing without temporarily in my case) that makes me truly and deeply appreciate where I come from.

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