We meet the 1st and 3rd Thursdays at St. Gertrude's Ministry Center
(6214 N. Glenwood), beginning at 8:00 p.m. Folks are welcome to join us at anytime.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Day Without Water

Heading out for my usual noon stroll with the baby I encountered my upstairs neighbor, Tristan, confronting the maintenance men who were working on the unit across the hall. They had once again failed to inform us residents that the building water supply would be cut off. I’d noticed this earlier but had chosen, as I am wont, to accept the injustice with apathetic resignation. For me it seemed little more than a minor inconvenience, so slight in fact that it did not even register as a real irritation. I had enough to keep me busy without calling the landlord to suggest the benefits of increased communication with his tenants. I was glad to see Tristan picking up the slack for the rest of us but also a little embarrassed. My feeling of embarrassment came, not from him speaking up, but the way and to whom he chose to make his voice heard. His tone was irate, inadequately masked by polite language, and addressed to a fella whose blank expression and reluctance to speak more than one or two words of English indicated a lack either of understanding or of interest.

When I got back from walking I put the baby to bed and set about preparing lunch. The lack of access to running water confronted me with a realization of how constantly I would typically use it. I faced the lack when I wanted to boil an egg, to rinse my hands after chopping vegetables, to wash the dishes that were now filling the sink, to make tea after I’d finished eating but still had the craving to consume (that is another issue, for another time). What would I do if I was in a situation in which water was not available for days or weeks at a time? What would I do if I was personally responsible for gathering the water I would use and once it was gone, it was gone; no turning on the faucet to bring it back? What would I do, in other words, if water was always—not just for these few hours because of maintenance work—in limited supply?

I will say here that I do realize there is in fact a limited supply and water has in many ways become a commodity. Though I concede being ignorant of much of the fresh information on this topic that is making the rounds I am cognizant that there is a dangerous scarcity of water in not only in developing countries but within our borders. That being said, however enlightened my intellect may or may not be about water challenges, I do not feel the truth of it. I don’t feel it because it is not part of my personal experience. When I want water, I call it forth with the flip of my wrist. Experience leads me to feel—whatever I may think to the contrary—that the water running through the faucet is something I have a right to and power over. I feel entitled to it, offended if my expectations are not met (What? Nothings coming out! It’s coming out brown? Outrageous!). It seems quite natural that water should run into my home and become automatically hot or cold according to my preference.

As long as this is my experience of “reality” genuine empathy eludes me and all that I can feel is a kind of billowy sympathy for the family in Eastern Kentucky in a trailer with no plumbing, not because it’s being repaired but because it doesn’t exist. I certainly can have no sense of solidarity with entire regions in India, Africa, Latin America, etc, where the only accessible water supply is contaminated. I recently saw a story on the Real News about a litigation case between the government of El Salvador and a Canadian mining company called Pacific Rim. The latter wanted to establish a mining operation a few miles from the town of San Isidro and was rejected. A primary concern for those in El Salvador is contamination. There is demonstrable evidence that gold mining consistently contaminates water supplies. Already only one third of El Salvador’s water supply is drinkable and they are anxious not to see their source diminished any further. Pacific Rim, through some clever machinations, is suing the government of El Salvador via a U.S. subsidiary for violating a free trade agreement.

This story grabbed my attention and I had intended to follow it, keeping track of what was happening and looking to see if there was any way that I could support El Salvador’s decision to prohibit the miners. Four days later, this is my first time to revisit the matter. The thought has presented itself a few times, but without the motivating force of feeling one would expect in the face of injustice. The thought came more as an inconvenience, an interruption so slight in fact, that it did not even register as a real irritation. I had other things to do and put the thought aside with apathetic resignation. Just like the plumbing, I expected someone else to handle it.

1 comment:

  1. Amy, thanks for sharing this experience. It makes me think twice -- at least twice -- about what I have that I take for granted. I feel that sense of entitlement. Most of the time, it's quite subtle. But it does come to the surface when something isn't available when I want it.

    In this moment, I'm thinking about others more than myself. Thanks for helping make this possible.