Living in Africa this past month has really made me stop to think about the natural resources I use. Sometimes, I find myself feeling very wasteful.
Today, for example, the girl who helps clean my house saw that I had thrown some eggs away. I had assumed that the eggs were bad. They’ve been in my refrigerator for weeks. (Eggs in Liberia do not come with an expiration date on the side of the package like the ones in the United States do.) She, however, said she’d take them home and try them. I instantly felt guilty. Here I was throwing away five eggs having failed to at least crack them to see if they were still good or not.
Another way in which I am constantly reminded how different my life in Africa is from the US is in the consumption, or use, of water. Last week, we ran out of water several times. That’s right…ran out.
Let me explain….
I live on the school property. We call it a compound because there are several people living within the gated area. The water on the compound is driven in on trucks and stored in huge containers, which hold about 500 gallons each. The water does not flow directly from those containers, so it must be pumped into a water tower. From the tower, the water flows to the classrooms, apartments, and offices.
There is a leak somewhere in the pipes. At first, it was a slow leak because it took two weeks to drain the tower. Now, we have to fill the water tower every two days. The staff who live on campus had gone a few consecutive days without running water, so you can imagine that I desperately needed a shower. I followed the suggestions of water and collected rainwater in barrels, adding a few drops of bleach to kill any nasty germs. I used this water to bath and to wash my dishes. I would have had to boil it if I needed to drink it, but I have already bought some bottled water for that purpose.
One morning, I figured What the heck! What’s the purpose of taking a bucket bath when God has given me a natural shower – a rain shower. In Liberia, we are experiencing the rainy season, so it rains here every day (most of the day). I donned, or put on my swimsuit, and headed out in the rain with my shampoo, conditioner, body wash, towel, and washcloth to get the job done!
I have to admit that it was reinvigorating and refreshing! It was even fun!
However, the luster of the rain shower was soon washed away. I realized that there are people in Liberia all around me – across the street, even – who don’t have running water. They must pump their water from a well they share will others in the neighborhood and then bring it all the way home. They have to worry about the bacteria in their water. Nasty stuff, like typhoid, can grow in the water and can make you sick. They never get to take showers, but use bucket baths all the time.
Science Challenge: How much water do you use everyday? Keep a journal about your family’s water use. Don’t forget to include the water you use for cooking, washing hands, flushing the toilet, washing dishes and clothes, mopping, drinking, and bathing.
Math Challenge: Now, imagine having to transport that water, walking from your house to the pump. How much water could you carry in each trip? How many trips would you have to make each day? Each week?
Writing Challenge: Write a letter to your local water treatment plant thanking them for keeping your water clean and safe for drinking! I bet they don’t hear that enough!
I suppose this whole experience has taught me not to take my water, its availability, and its cleanliness for granted. I also have a greater appreciation for the people who do without water and those who walk miles to provide water for their families everyday.