Water. Glorious, delicious, comforting water.
Much has been said in recent years about the importance of water, the impending worldwide scarcity, the droughts that countries suffer. Yet it can never quite hit home or feel like a reality until the loss of water is personally experienced, when each drop is precious.
We knew this hospital would not have running water. We stocked up on drinking water before we left BahirDar, and made sure that we had sufficient cleansing wipes for our hands while working in the hospital. But what happens when a bottle of ketchup drops on the floor, splatters everywhere and there is nothing to clean it up with? This leads to an invitation for cockroaches, an increase in mosquitos, and a myriad of other issues. Or when we need to clean a dish, or fry eggs for a dinner, or wash a utensil or wash our hands after handling something we know is contaminated? Do we use precious bottled drinking water for that?
We conserve the best we can, yet find ourselves battling with the wash lady over how much water she is using, literally fighting with the handle of a bucket in order to keep one in the house for other uses. We get water from the government a few days a week, but as soon as it it turned on, the hoarding begins, and it quickly runs out. We join the hoarding by purchasing more buckets to fill up with the scarce resource, and even collect the bad water from the leaking sink to use for flushing our toilet. Swiftly, we join the thousands of other Ethiopians who live in extremely unsanitary conditions.
Public health posters plead for people to wash their hands to prevent the spread of disease. This action is embedded into our Western culture, yet what do you do when you have no water?
Animals pass on the road, their bodies thin, bones protruding. Every day, there is a multitude of decisions over who gets how much water and when. Bathing goes to the wayside, and still, we have trouble choosing how we will use our supply. We decide to drastically reduce our cooking, which uses more water than we can spare. Boiling eggs requires little clean up, and we can use the water for something else, so that becomes our staple protein. And when we sparingly use water to occasionally wash our hands, we do so over the toilet so that water can flush waste.
We stop drinking water, from subconscious thinking, and I faint one morning from lack of fluids. We have no car to retrieve more water, so our minds turn to how we can pay someone with a donkey cart to help us. All the while, we see women and small children carrying, for miles, large plastic containers full of river water. And we realize how fortunate we are: we have the means to purchase water. Now I know why kids fight their way to the firenji when we stop in villages, scrambling to get the last bit of water in our water bottles.
Wash your hands to prevent the spread of disease? This sentiment seems a joke to me now. And it makes me incredibly sad that water is scarce here at this hospital, a place where sanitary conditions are expected. A well would serve this health care community in ways that are immeasurable. A simple system of collecting rain water and saving it for the dry season would drastically have an impact on the lives of the doctors, patients and students who long to be of health service in this isolated terrain.
Ethiopians have a right to water just the way we do in Western society. I think of this every time I face the sink at home. I say a silent “thank you” every time my hand turns a faucet. I long to be able to build a big pipe that travels across our continent, under the sea and over the mountains to be able to flow here in this little village in Ethiopia. Surely we can find a way to conserve, and share, this resource.
I accept this time of extreme difficulty without the luxury of flowing water. It teaches me many things. And knowing that it is a temporary situation gets me by. But oh how my heart aches for those who will remain here, struggling each day to find their drops of glorious, delicious, comforting water.
The Mota hospital scrub room.