Imagine going home. You haven’t been home for a while and you can’t wait to get there, your poor heart bursting with the anticipation of home. No place like it and things like that. What do you imagine is the nastiest joke the universe could play on you in your vulnerable state?
A devastating fire would be nasty, definitely. Burglary, too. A termite infestation — any infestation, really –would not be pleasant, certainly. But the worst? I’ll tell you what the worst is. The worst is going home looking forward to a long and lazy summer and finding the taps in the house as dry as my friend Maya’s sense of humour. She’s a Capricorn. They know about dry humour. And now I know about dry taps.
We arrived on Sunday afternoon. My problem-solving, sociable husband was on the phone with the local water utility immediately, telling them politely yet a little impatiently that he had been patient for weeks but this was an outrage. Indeed, there had been problems with the water supply for weeks before we left. We left because of those problems: they left us without water for more than 24 hours straight. There is only so much disruption in civilisation we can take. And now the disruption was back and it looked like it was here to stay.
By Monday evening Big C had called the water people two more times and had had enough. There was water in the morning but by noon it was a trickle and an hour later even the trickle was gone. So that evening I called the water people. And I got a lecture from a young man, the sort of person who loves hearing their own voice and as a result has limited hearing potential.
I was told we should get used to the situation. The winter was snowless, so there was no water in the aquifers feeding the village. Fair enough, I said, but this was not the first dry winter in the last 24 years. How come we never had a problem with the water before? A lot of people water their gardens with tap water even when they shouldn’t, he said. It’s illegal. But they do. Villagers, what do you want? I want water, I said. I have always had water here and I see no reason why things should change.
The mostly amicable and mostly one-sided conversation continued for half an hour. And it plunged me in the deepest recesses of depression I have known in my life. I used to think love hurts. Not as much as waterlessness, I now know. I used to think life’s lack of meaning hurt. Not as much as the sight of a sink full of unwashed dishes you need two people to wash. In short, my life crumbled to pieces.
No one in the family got much sleep that Monday night. Little C, because she went to bed too late and us because we spent the night worrying. I saw no way forward. If there was no water for half a day in May, then by July, there wouldn’t be water for a week. We would have to sell the place. But who would buy it without reliable water supply?
We would have to abandon it. Just because a water utility cannot ensure the services it must ensure we would be forced to abandon the most beautiful place in the world, the place we call home, and the place where we wanted to spend the rest of our lives. Incidentally, also the place we planned major renovations for, this very summer. If you’re not already depressed by the end of this paragraph, I’d be surprised and a little suspicious.
The Tuesday that followed that night was a total loss. It was the equivalent of a car smashing into a bakery during the bakery’s peak hour. The equivalent of the sourdough bread I made hastily a week ago, which would make a good paper weight if I had any paper that needed a weight but is not food.
Writing? Impossible. Working? Thank you, brain, for your autopilot system. Helping Little C with homework? That was one of the universe’s crueller jokes, I have to admit. In hindsight I wonder why we didn’t also get a sick and starving kitten crawl up to the doorstep that we would then need to rush to a vet in town. It was that kind of a day.
By Wednesday I had begun to adjust. Writing was still out of the question as well as any other activity requiring an ounce of imagination. Showering was on the cards again because at 6 am, there was water. It was gone by 7 but, hey, at least I was clean. I had taken over the communications channel with the water people and I was already thinking of them as friends after two more calls on Tuesday because I wasn’t going to stay put. You stop my water, I have a problem that I need to share with you urgently. Life was different than it had been a week earlier but I was adjusting. It probably sounds familiar to, I don’t know, everyone.
We made plans for outdoor showers and a water reservoir with a tap for the kitchen. I started to feel a tiny little bit better. We wouldn’t have to abandon the place. We could keep our home despite adversity. I began to get used to the thought that outdoor showers and washing dishes with cold water would be our new normal, one we could do nothing about except file a formal complaint, which I had already drafted. And then, on Wednesday afternoon a friend from the village sent me a picture of a notice at the village hall: “Due to recent water outages,” it said “the pumps feeding the village will be replaced tomorrow. We apologise for the inconvenience.”
On Friday morning there was water and it had normal pressure, too, the kind that reached the second floor of the house where our bathroom happens to be. On Friday noon, there was still water, with normal pressure. By the afternoon I was having a full-blown anxiety attack, checking taps every time I passed by one, expecting the dry gurgling from a few days earlier, my palms sweaty, my heart thumping in my ears and my blood pressure likely close to the roof if not yet through it. I got water every time.
On Saturday, I risked leaving my tea cup unwashed for a whole two hours. There was still water when I finally decided to wash it. There was still water on Sunday and there is still water as I write this. I just checked. Life looks a lot brighter than it looked a week ago and I feel I might be strong enough for an apple cake this afternoon. I haven’t recovered enough to restart writing but that’s perfectly fine because I have a tonne of editing to do and I’ve started on that instead. I’ve switched off the work autopilot.
In all fairness, I’ve always had a sort of a vulnerable spot when water is concerned. In the great dilemma of power outage or water outage, I’d vote for power outage every time except if it’s winter. There is something particularly gruesome about water outages because they imply dirt, stink, and disease. Yes, I know people lived perfectly clean and non-smelly lives for centuries without running water but now that we have it, it’s the one thing I’d rather not be deprived of. I might even be willing to sacrifice the little toe on my left foot for guaranteed uninterrupted water supply for the rest of my life so if anyone knows a handy demon, drop me an email. Thank you.
P.S. I need to say a word of praise for multiple-use plastics. Pictured above this blog post is part of the family’s new emergency water reserve. It would not have been possible were it not for my love for Tuborg and my equal love for convenience. No, I didn’t drink this in the couple of days when I suffered the most though it sounded like a good idea at the time.