230 hours

230 hours

13,800 minutes

827,220 seconds

Take your pick, but that is roughly the amount of time we were without water at our house.  A full 10 days to contemplate just how much we are accustomed to the convenience of water on tap in the house.  It also helps us realize how much access to potable water is a basic human right.

So far this summer, more than 400 people in Cameroon have died of cholera – a disease directly connected to hygiene and clean water supply.  We get bi-weekly text messages on our cellphones from UNICEF and MTN Foundation reminding subscribers: “Cholera spreads and kills quickly.  Always wash your hands with soap, drink potable water, wash and cook food, use a latrine.”

Sounds simple enough, but the sad reality is, not everyone here has access to clean water.  Not in the villages. Not in the cities either. The cholera outbreak has required much mobilization by NGOs (like the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières), the government and many community associations around the country.

But of course, our little water cut is nothing in the grand scheme of things.  However, it taught us many lessons, one of which is that we can now shower using about 3 litres of water each and have enough grey water left over to then flush the toilet.  Everything else is a bonus!

Greg’s Dad aught to be proud!

half of our meager water reserves

The water company had announced it would cut the water Sunday before last for miscellaneous repairs – my birthday present it would seem.  In anticipation, the night before, we filled some buckets and noticed that there wasn’t much water to be had… did they cut us off early?  Thanks guys!!  Sheesh!

Then Sunday came and went, followed by Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.  Still nothing.  Who needs to be clean anyway?

We weren’t alone.  Many of our work colleagues had outages at their homes too.  At least the office had water flowing in abundance!  Despite our water woes, Mirjam and Hanno, fellow VSO volunteers, arrived to stay with us awhile.  Their company made the outage more tolerable and amusing. Together we filled up every empty plastic water bottle we had – about 35 of them – at the office, refilling them everyday, carrying them back and forth.  Four brains thinking up ingenious various ways to conserve water – we couldn’t have asked for anything more.

Léonie Antoinette, the super nice lady who runs a food stall right on the corner, offered to let us pump water from her well when she saw us carrying all the plastic bottles around.  She was even willing to show us another place close-by where there is an “open source” of water.  However, this time of cholera and our non-Cameroonian constitutions reminded us why we had to decline.

buckets catching the rain

Thursday turned to Friday and then the weekend went by.  Sunday afternoon – a full week without water – an antediluvian rainstorm fell upon Yaoundé.  We managed to fill every bucket, pot and receptacle we could get our hands on!  Then we transferred that water into the plastic bottles and filled up the buckets some more.  Well loaded up with water – and all the stinky toilets flushed – we resigned ourselves for what seemed to be the long haul.

On Monday afternoon, we crossed paths with our landlady and her agent.  They didn’t seem too surprised by our back to basics conditions.  Their comment “that it may be a month before you have water at the house again” made us cringe.

Though we had mastered various conservation-focused tactics, the days were starting to take their toll.  No cleaning could occur.  We’d had to bring laundry to a friend’s house because we were out of “foundations”.  We’d been skimpy on making tea and cooking dinner for fear of using too much water for dishes.

Tuesday morning brought a blessed revelation:  the neighbours across the street had water return to their taps the night before!

The cut was lifted!!!  But we had to ask, where was OUR water???

Greg and Hanno filing bottles with rainwater

Luckily for us, a VSO staff member has a brother (gotta love large families!) who works for the water company AND is a plumber.  He graciously accepted to climb over the fenced wall to an inaccessible part of our compound where the water shut off valve is located to check it out.  Unbelievably, but not uncharacteristically I am afraid, not only did we had a 10-day water cut… but the shut off valve was also broken!

It seems like the plumber who had come to fix our leaky kitchen faucet the Friday before the cut had broken the valve!  Rather than admit his mistake, he decided to say nothing and head home.  That first Saturday we’d unknowingly used the last of the water in the pipes!  No wonder the pressure was really bad!!!

In the end, we still would have been without water a while.  Cut or no cut, 230 hours later we are in major need of a hot shower…

Too bad the electrician “fixed” our faulty bedroom plug by disconnecting our water heater.

~ by Caroline Spira on September 23, 2010.

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