Water in a Tap or in a Bucket? Learning to live in Mexico
Water, especially clean water, is something that is generally taken for granted in developed countries. Turn on a tap, and there it is. No worry about running out, nor even a need — with certain exceptions — to boil or purify it for drinking. Only on rare occasions as a child did I experience the old-fashioned concept of “working to get it”, that is, pumping it up from a well, usually in a public park or perhaps on a farm.
Fast forward to the 70’s and rural Chiapas. There I had the opportunity of living in an indigenous village… more like a hamlet, with about four or five homes, where the main source of water was a small river, perhaps a ten-minute walk away. That’s where we bathed, and from there we also hauled up buckets of water for our household needs, including sprinkling the hard-packed dirt floor before sweeping. The latrine outside required no water, just lime or ashes. We boiled water for drinking in huge cans on our wood stove.
Nowadays, more and more villages in Mexico have at least some plumbing; at times this means there is a central tap where one can fill buckets of water without having to head to the nearest river. There are NGO’s that help build wells in towns with limited access to the precious liquid.
Cities are another story… It depends where you are in the country (how dry it is) and even where you are in the city. We’ve been fortunate to live generally in neighborhoods where city water “comes in” to our cisterns a few times a week, and we don’t run out. Others are less lucky, and especially in the dry season, may have to order a “pipa” or water truck to deliver water, if they can afford it. Most Mexicans are aware that the precious liquid should be used sparingly, and there are constant campaigns recommending we not leave tap water running while we brush our teeth, not wash cars with a hose, take 5-minute showers, and so on.
If you don’t live in Mexico, be aware that in much of the country, tap water is not potable, so we buy big bottles of water or invest in water purifiers. If you ask for water in a restaurant, they may bring a bottle and charge you for it, so ideally, ask for “un vaso de agua”, a glass of water.
This year the interviewers are visiting for the national census. One of the questions they ask is whether or not we flush our toilets with a bucket of water! I guess this gives them an idea of people’s social level based on their plumbing. Funny, the question doesn’t seem to allow the option that would be more likely in some towns, a latrine.
Although I didn’t tell the man that asked all those nosy questions, the fact is, for several days we’d been using buckets for that purpose, among others. Our power system was on the blink and we couldn’t use the water pump or “bomba” to pump water up to the tank on the roof, as is the norm in many Mexican homes. I gather the pressure isn’t strong enough to give us water straight “from the streeet to our taps”. So we’re hauling up buckets of water from the cistern. If we usually try to avoid excess in our use of water, all the more so now!
Which reminds me, a relative from the U.S. once spent some time at our house and we explained that while we wait for shower water to heat up, we like to gather the water in a bucket for a few minutes, and save it for flushing. That surprised her and, sure enough, showed up in one of her blog posts.
When I go to the U.S. Or Canada, it’s a whole different story. In California I know there have been droughts when they ask people not to water their lawns, but just seeing the number of swimming pools there is mind-blowing to me! I get nervous when Canadians leave the tap running for several minutes; it seems so wasteful. And yet water seems so abundant there that no one seems to worry. It’s all the more frustrating for me when I think of stories from Kenya and elsewhere, where people are lucky to find even murky, unclean water for their daily needs. Regions and nations are fighting over water sources, and this is predicted to be more and more of an issue in the future.
Even if you live where water scarcity is not a problem, I hope you’ll still try to be globally aware and try not to waste water.