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gettin serious about water

June 5, 2011

the family with whom I am staying here is wonderful. there are the “elders” (a little younger than my mom and dad, incidentally), danilo and rosa, who live in one house about the size of the first floor of my house in minneapolis, with several small bedrooms. in the same yard, just meters away, is another house, a little smaller, where their oldest daughter, mayela, lives with her husband and two sons, ages 10 and 3. their youngest daughter, Karen, is a med student who goes to school in Managua and comes home almost every weekend, and nearby live their other two sons, their wives and kids, who are around almost everyday. then there are friends, neighbors, all kinds of other folks who pass through, which all led me to be a little confused for the first several days about who was who, who lives where, and i’m so sorry but what was their name again? the folks at la mariposa have indicated to me that my family is really well respected and well known in the community, and I have hardly talked to anyone who doesn’t know them, or at least who they are, including staff at the clinic.
danilo and rosa are both retired teachers, danilo high school and rosa elementary school, and danilo still works casually at the mariposa as an instructor. mayela travels (about an hour) every day to and from Managua where she works at a Spanish language school, and the other sons work in some sort of sales, and as a veterinarian, respectively. I say all this because I think it says a lot about the way of life in this community to note that in not one of the homes of this extended family, who for the most part have “middle class” jobs and a relatively comfortable quality of life, is there running water.
here’s how it works where I am living: there is a huge concrete basin, maybe 12x4x4 feet, mostly covered, that catches rain water. to get water for washing dishes, doing laundry, bathing, etc., they (well, me too now) fill a bucket from the basin and bring it to the kitchen, or the now laundry sink, or the large bucket in the shower, as many times as needed to get the task at hand done. the laundry and kitchen sinks drain into big buckets for “gray water” that is used for watering plants in the yard. they also have a huge tank, maybe 10 feet tall? it has a filter, and it gathers rain water as well, filters it, and that water is for drinking, cooking, brushing teeth, that sort of thing. finally, the bathroom is a latrine, an outhouse.
what happens when the water gets low? they hope for rain. last night, when I saw danilo after it had started raining, he was smiling, talking about how happy he was now that it was raining, not unlike a farmer who’s lived through his share of droughts. because the rainy season has started here, the basin and tank have been mostly full; I’ve never seen it below a foot or so deep. but in the dry season, which just ended within the last month, if it’s gone it’s gone. it sounds like the option is to buy water that gets trucked into town.
for all these reasons, guests at the la mariposa, where there is some running water, are encouraged to be very mindful of their water use, and to try to use the latrines here rather than the flush toilets, the outdoor shower that collects rainwater rather than indoor showers. but it’s not just because of the cost of water: yesterday, the director of la mariposa was saying that the underground water supply in Nicaragua is due to run out in ten years. predictably, I suppose, one contributing factor they mentioned is the disproportionate use of water by developments attracting tourists and their demand for pools, showers, lush vegetation, etc. what a double bind, because tourism is apparently the number one money making industry in Nicaragua.
for me, it’s been really good to have this opportunity to become more aware of how much water I use in a day, and have a better practical sense of how precious it is. wouldn’t it be wonderful if this little personal realization of mine could do a damn thing to address the hard reality of water as a scarce worldwide resource? i wish this little ramble about water had a more hopeful or purposeful end, but for now, for better or worse, that’s it.

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One Comment
  1. Wow, what an interesting post, Betsy. I hope I will be just a bit more conscious of my water use, as well. Thanks, and keep these wonderful posts coming!!! –Nancy

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