18 October 2009

2009-10-18: Water outage


It was a quiet and uneventful Sunday at home - except for the water being out nearly all day, which was rather inconvenient. I spent the morning researching potential holiday itineraries in southern Africa; I spent the early afternoon working on my computer; and I spent the rest of the afternoon taking a nap (darn jet lag!) The water finally came back on around six PM. In the evening, I did some writing, and stayed up too late.

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It was eight-thirty when I awoke. My first thought was, is the water back on? I turned the bathroom sink faucet. It gasped faintly and produced nothing.

I had only a few sips of drinking water remaining, and I was awfully thirsty. I really needed to go and buy some water.

But I felt rather stuck. I didn't want to go out to the shops without washing my face, getting a drink, and brushing my teeth... all of which required water. For awhile I just sat on the edge of my bed trying to motivate myself to do something.

Well, at least I could wash my face with the old funny-smelling water from the kitchen bucket, even though I wasn't willing to brush my teeth with it. I did, and this woke me up a bit.

Fortunately the BP shop is only a three-minute walk away, which is not a difficult task no matter how dehydrated and unpresentable one feels. I wondered if the shop might have run out of bottled water, since I wasn't sure how widespread the water outage was. But fortunately, there were some large bottles of water in the refrigerated cabinet. I grabbed a 2L bottle of Aqua Pure for K250. That should last me all day.

As I paid at the front counter, I asked the clerk "Is your water working OK here?"

"Yeah, it is working fine," he said.

"The water is out out on Chirunga Road," I said. "Funny, I thought yours would be out too."

Now I was more worried. If the outage was widespread, then fixing it would be a high priority. If it was only our road - or part of our road - maybe the Water Board wouldn't pay too much attention. It might not be worth their trouble to work on a Sunday.

I carried my precious two litres home, opened the bottle, poured a full glass, and drank the whole glass in one go. Ahhhhh. Water is a human right, I said to myself. Lacking drinking water is one of the most basic deprivations a human being can experience.

I was pouring myself another glass of water when I noticed small white particles around the rim of the bottle. Upon closer inspection, they seemed to be eggs or egg casings of some kind, about the size of flea eggs or spider eggs. They were also on the inside of the cap.

"Aqua Pure, huh?" I said to myself. "How about "Aqua-infested-with-foreign-objects?"

I wiped the white particles off the rim of the bottle, threw the cap away, and peered inside the bottle to see if any bits had gotten inside. I didn't see any, but who knows whether I'd already drank some. No wonder Aqua Pure is the cheapest brand of bottled water.

* * * * *

My goals for today were to write half a dozen thank-you cards; to catch up on my blog; to compose some e-mails to my professors; and to unpack and clean my room. That doesn't sound so difficult, does it?

But for some reason I was completely lacking in energy. I just wanted to go back to bed. I don't know if it was jet lag, sleep deficit, homesickness, or something else, but even reading a book seemed like an awful lot of work. "You can't go back to bed," I told myself. "Work on something easy until you feel better."

So I got out my Lonely Planet Southern Africa guidebook, and started browsing through it to get some ideas for places to go when I take a holiday in several months' time. Other than Malawi, the itinerary is still completely open-ended. I'd love to visit South Africa (it is such a huge and diverse country I don't even know where to start), and Victoria Falls seems a must, but what other southern African wonders does one prioritise in a two-week trip? The Okavango Delta in Botswana? The sand dunes of the Namib Desert? The alpine vistas of Lesotho? The endless beaches of Mozambique?

After an hour or so of leafing through the book, I felt even more overwhelmed by the possibilities. Well, it would surely be a memorable trip. And it gave me a lot to look forward to. I rallied myself to get up and do some actual work.

* * * * *

Due to power outages, rushing around, and a disrupted sleep schedule, it had been a while since I'd had a real meal. For lunch one of my roommates cooked beef stew, white rice, and fried kale with tomatoes. It was quite good and I told her so. When I finished, I carefully washed and rinsed my plate with the precious little water we had left in the kitchen bucket. Oh, I hoped the water came back on soon.

I thought the meal might give me more energy to work, but instead it made me sleepy. My body seemed to be remembering that lunchtime in Malawi is the middle of the night in California. I fought against drowsiness for awhile, but then decided to lie down again and take a nap.

* * * * *

Oh no! It was dark outside! What happened to the day? I should have set an alarm. There went my hopes of unpacking, writing e-mails, and so on. What a useless Sunday this had turned out to be.

At least one useful thing had happened while I was asleep: when I turned the bathroom faucet, it gurgled and then choked out a stream of water. Thank goodness. Twenty-four hours without water is really beyond inconvenient.

The kitchen tap was running brown, but the bathroom seemed OK, so I filled the electric kettle and put it on to boil.

I thought to myself: Most Malawian households don't have water at home. So why is it such a big deal when our water goes out? It's because our house is organised around the town water supply. We don't have a well or a pump or a borehole. We only have our faucets. I would rather have been at Makoka - at least there is a hand pump there. I could have done my laundry!

At home in California, I find many excuses to avoid doing laundry on the weekends, but failure of the water supply is not one of them.

* * * * *

The rest of the evening passed quietly. Now it's well past bedtime, but not surprisingly, I'm not sleepy after my five-hour nap. Supposedly the MZ12 work crew is starting at six o'clock at Makoka tomorrow. I really should join them and bring my new hoe. It's just disheartening that I am so slow at the task compared to everyone else. Well, there are plenty of other things I need to do at Makoka, that's for sure.

All right, I'd better see if I can fall asleep! Good night!

Chichewa word of the day: pamenepo = over there; on that place

(Last year, when we were laying out the pegs to mark the rain shelter footprints, I often heard Mr Singo say "Pamenepo" to his assistant, but I didn't know what it meant!)


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