By Conor Sanchez
It started on a Tuesday morning. It was 5 am and a thick fog blanketed the neighborhood, which according to neighbors means we’re in for a hot day. While skeptical at first, I have yet to prove them wrong. I walked to the kitchen to start making coffee and oatmeal but when I turned the knob of the faucet, it let out the pathetic sigh it always does when the water is gone. Fortunately I had filled a small bucket with some extra water from the night before in case something like this happened.
I made coffee and oatmeal, and filled up my water-bottle. Then I cleaned the dishes and that was it for all the water we had saved. It’ll probably come back around 9 or 10 am like it always does, I thought. I kissed Michaela goodbye. “El agua ya se fue (the water is already gone).” I said.
“It’ll come back,” she responded in English.
Famous last words.
I returned from teaching at around 11 am. Michaela was still home when I got back. “The water back?” I asked. “Nope.” she said.
The water situation is notoriously bad in Nueva Guinea. We used to live in a zone that only got water at night. We’d heard of places where the water only came on from 2 to 3 am forcing residents to wake up and fill up their blue plastic barrels in the middle of the night. Fortunately, we moved to an area that gets water pretty consistently. In fact, the only days we don’t get water for more than three hours is Sunday (which also seems to be the day they cut the electricity as well).
It was surprising, then, that the water was still gone. Whatever, I thought; they must be rationing the water supply or something. Michaela and I both had to teach that afternoon so we headed to work, shower-less, sweaty, and a little thirsty.
This is dry season in Nicaragua, which also happens to be the country’s hottest season, and that afternoon felt like the hottest of the year. Wearing polos tucked into jeans didn’t help much either. Around 4 pm we returned home, hotter and even sweatier than before, only to discover that there was still… no… water.
This is where I realized my own lack of foresight. I hadn’t saved nearly enough water. Something like this was bound to happen and here I was filling up a tiny bucket the night before thinking I was being proactive. Without any water to cook with or clean the dirty dishes from lunch with, much less drink with, we decided to go buy some purified water from the store.
This was no easy decision. Buying purified water by the jug is downright expensive. It would certainly make an impression on our monthly budget, but with few other options we finally caved and decided to buy the jugs. That night, Michaela and I used a whole jug cleaning dishes, preparing our dinner, and hydrating ourselves after an incredibly hot day.
We went to bed, once again shower-less and a little thirsty, but hopeful that the water would be back on when we woke up.
But it wasn’t. And it didn’t come back all day. We both had to work, which left us little time to investigate what on Earth was going on. Michaela’s counterpart was nice enough to send a truck with some extra buckets of water to help us manage through the evening. When it arrived we both helped carry the containers upstairs, until I realized something peculiar about what we were doing.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Diana (Michaela’s counterpart teacher) has water?”
“Apparently,” Michaela said.
We both seemed to recognize the discrepancy in this situation. Diana doesn’t live that far away from us. Why would she have water and not us?
I immediately bolted out the front door and went around asking neighbors if they had water. They all did. I went next door, where the owner of our house lives and asked him why we didn’t have water. Incredulous, he followed me back over to our place to confirm that the water was indeed gone.
It was then that I remembered a funny interaction I had with the water company a few weeks back when I went to pay the water bill. After paying my bill, they asked me when I would be paying the debt on the property?
“What debt?” I asked.
“The debt for 1,200 cordobas,” they said.
1,200 cordobas is roughly $48, which means the owner had gone months without paying for water before we moved in. I called up the owner and he said he’d take care of it, not too worry. Well, I did just that – not worry – and now look where we were.
We were a bit bothered by this. It’s one thing if everyone else is dealing with an inconvenience, but another if we’re suffering for no other reason than the owner’s negligence. It’s funny how quickly my mindset changed once I discovered we were alone in this, whereas before I was much more patient with the situation. He promised he’d go to the water company in the morning.
I wish I could say the morning arrived and water came flowing through our cobwebbed pipes again, but I can’t. The owner went to work in the morning as if everything was normal. It took me going over 4 or 5 times to remind him. Still, there was no sense of urgency.
At one point in the afternoon, we were outside talking with one of our neighbors about the situation. She had just paid her water bill so the guys from the utility company were there to turn her pipes back on. We asked one of them if they could turns ours on, but they said the landlord needed to first pay the debt. Our neighbor sympathized with us, offering to let us fill our buckets and use her lavendera (a washing table). She also invited us to go fishing at a nearby river with her family that weekend. If I can take a shower in that river, I thought to myself, sure, why not?
Coincidentally, that evening, Michaela was finishing teaching at the community english center when the guy from the utility company walked in. He was picking up his son who takes english classes there (which tells you how small this 100,000-person city truly becomes after a while).
“Acabo de reinstalar su agua,” he said. Finally, our water was back on.
Let me tell you, there are few things that match the feeling you get when you hear water come pumping through your pipes again after some of the hottest days of your life. A double rainbow appears above the sink. ABBA starts blaring out of nowhere and angels appear in the windows chanting, “Hallelujah!” I usually do a dance that I hope never reaches Vine or YouTube. I’m not kidding – it’s magical.
I’m not really sure what this lesson taught me other than to keep my guard up and don’t always assume an inconvenience is normal or acceptable just because it’s Peace Corps. Sometimes it’s as mundane as your landlord not paying his debt on time.
It also served as yet another reminder that in the United States, like a lot of things, water is an afterthought. It’s always there. It’s in the bathroom, it’s in the kitchen, it’s in your fish-tank. It comes however you like it. Don’t want it cold? Then have it hot. Don’t want it too cold or too hot, but right in the middle, like luke-warmish? Fine. Here you go. Want it in a plastic bottle with a cool picture of mountains on it to remind us how rivers are created? Give me a buck, and take it.
Here, you always have to think ahead. Although our situation was unique, neighbors weren’t surprised that we had no water. That happens. In fact, they were more surprised that we hadn’t filled a bunch of barrels for situations like this. My entire life I’ve had the privilege of never having these “situations” as my own and therefore lacked the instinct to stock up like Y2K was just around the corner.
So in case you’re wondering, we now have two jugs and a giant blue barrel, all filled with water just in case something happens.
Each and every day, we’re getting better at this – at least, that’s what I tell myself.