The Trouble with Water

There are few greater joys than waking up on a Saturday morning to head out for an early-morning swim. And by early, I mean waking at 7 and getting to the pool early enough to be first one in. Therein lies the joy, even at 8 o’clock on a quiet, traffic-free long-weekend day.

Upon entering, I bid good morning to this morning’s lifeguard, M.A., and step in to a gloriously speckled oversized vat of water. For just a couple of minutes, I am alone, just I and the pool. Even the lanes have not yet been roped off, so imagine my sheer delight at being able to wade into this mass of perfectly calm, shimmering water. Ah yes, those first steps into bliss.

Moments later, still reveling in the blessed absence of other early-bird swimmers, my body glides into shallow water, I dunk my head briefly, and break into a slow-paced stroke. The fluid space surrounding me below the surface is a gift for my slowly-waking soul, as much as it is a balm to my aching leg.

But today, as I gain momentum, my normally placid mindfulness is broken by a set of parallel but otherwise unrelated thoughts that somehow creep into the forefront of my brain – the only common factor being water.

My mind conjures up a short blurb I read a few weeks ago, about how Celine Dion was in the midst of constructing a number of large pool structures around her new Florida estate, complete with constantly-flowing water. Although I hold no ill-will towards the songstress, it struck me even then as an obscenely hedonistic and ecologically-damaging fantasy-land. Really, I thought, who needs that much pool-space and water flowing 24/7 – especially when Dion’s family is not likely to be in residence for more than a few months (or perhaps, weeks) a year?

It’s likely that the trigger for the Dion debacle resurfacing in my mind was an email I received earlier this week from a friend in Nepal. A. lives with her mother in a miniscule one-room apartment in central Kathmandu – smaller, undoubtedly, than the size of one of Celine’s pools (or dressing room, for that matter); the kitchen separated by a home-made curtain, the bathroom a closet-sized space shared by all the neighbors on A.’s floor, with a sink and squat toilet. I was invited over once for dinner, and thoroughly enjoyed a fragrant meal prepared by A.’s mother, as we three ate in a tight circle on the carpeted floor.

When I first met A., always dressed smartly for work in a colorful salwar kurta or sari, I could never imagine the stories she would share over time, particularly those about water shortages.

In the months preceding monsoon season, when it was especially hot and humid, and the water levels at their lowest, the government would severely ration each household’s water supply. Sometimes for months at a time, A. would have to wake up at a pre-ordained time – back then it was generally at 4 a.m. – and line up at the pump on the ground floor of her building to obtain the little water they were allocated that day, which though limited, often had to last for many days. Yes, many times, water was only available twice a week, at the most ungodly of times. And, occasionally, A. would tumble out of bed for a nocturnal visit only to discover upon arrival at the pump that it had already run dry.

So when A. wrote me this past week, noting that they would not have water for another six days, I just stared at the screen and started to cry.

It is sad and inconceivable that people should live in conditions of such extremes – needless and excessive waste or such sporadic access to the basic necessities of life.

If you want to learn more about the need for water worldwide, check out Charity:Water. Scott Harrison has poured his heart into it.

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