Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Water, Water, Everywhere, and Not a Drop to Drink

Last week was a little bit dramatic. I came home from school to find we had no water. Maria, our house Mom, told us that no one in our area had water, and that “they” were trying to do something about it. Now, I haven’t been in Cartagena very long, but I’ve spent enough time in South America to know that when “they” do something about a problem, often mosquitoes go through entire lifecycles before the problem gets fixed.

It really is amazing how much more you appreciate something when it is very suddenly taken away from you. We couldn’t do dishes or make a lot of food that required boiling things…bathrooms everywhere in the city were out of service because the main pipeline several miles away had burst due to unseasonable erosion and exposure. All inconvenient bathroom-break strategizing aside, the worst part was that we couldn’t take a shower. Now, when the days in Cartagena are 90°F with 75% humidity, showers are necessary. I also love to run, and sometimes get up very early in the morning (read: 4:45AM) to go running before it gets too hot out. These two days especially, I really needed some exercise.

The water turned on sporadically for the next 48 hours, and we were able to gather enough water for small amounts of cooking, for flushing the toilet, and for taking bucket showers. I’d never taken a bucket shower in my life before. Any time I’ve gone camping, I’ve always washed in the river or just sucked it up for a couple of days. For some reason it’s easier to do that when you’re expecting not to have access to a shower, as opposed to being blind sighted. Also, lack of plumbing in the forest (aka – an area with general lack of civilization) isn’t really a problem, since…well…no one really cares if you just pick the nearest tree and go about your business. Cities without plumbing are a bit more complicated, but a couple bucket showers now and again never hurt anyone. I was still able to go for my runs.

A city-wide lack of water is apparently very unusual, but things got more stressful than that. Aside from no water, our internet also shut down for a few days, our phone wasn’t working, and…we had a few new friends who’d moved into our room. These friends were not welcome. The first one had four legs, a tail, a love of cheese, and still lives under Julia’s bed. The second had eight legs and set up camp in our bathroom. Julia had warned Anezka and me not to use the bathroom, but we scouted it out and the spider seemed to have left. That night around 4:00AM I got up to use the bathroom. I opened the door and was greeted by a giant black spot on the floor. The spot moved. I screamed, slammed the door, and caused my two roommates to awaken, terrified, and demand in the name of all that was holy why I was acting like an axe murderer had come for tea. I explained. They went back to sleep...or ignored me.

The next morning, our friend with too many eyes and too many legs had gone, but that night he returned. Moreover, he’d grown bolder, and had ventured out from the bathroom. I was alone. Julia and Anezka were nowhere to be found. This was serious, and I needed backup. Unfortunately, there was no boy readily available, and Manuel refused to come over and kill it for me. For some reason he thought I was being silly and could do it myself. Right. Screw chivalry. Of course I could.

I strategized. The spider was crawling across the wall and over my bed. I pulled my bed into the center of the room, so any dead spider remains wouldn’t fall on it. Then after jumping up and down a lot and shouting colorful things (which did nothing…surprisingly), I picked a book from my closet and hurled it at the spider. Spider and book fell. I had won. Let me just say that Mario Vargas Llosa comes in handy for more than practicing your Spanish.

The water returned the next day, our internet returned the next day, and one of our guy friends came to sweep up the spider carcass. I’ve climbed mountains, crossed borders, hitch-hiked through foreign countries, made friends with unusual people…but it’s good to be reminded that even something the size of your fist, or something as simple as not taking a shower can still throw you off your guard. I’m thankful for small reminders like that. And for the fact that through all of this, our air conditioning still worked.