Monthly Archives: March 2013

Becoming an expert at boiling water


As city-dwellers in 2013, should we expect running water and electricity? Yes. Should we take it for granted? No. Interruptions happen, systems break down. All of these systems of the modern age are human-made, subject to error, far from infallible. They’re subject to interruptions from nature, accidents, overuse, and to expect them to never break is an example of hubris. Not at the individual level, necessarily but more of a general hubris about the greatness of human creations. Don’t get me wrong: I love the amazingness of this world and all that humans have done to contribute to that. But, our creations are subject to error. Just like us.

I recognize that I might have a different view on this and some would say my expectations should be higher. Maybe. But when I think back to those months post-Katrina, where interruptions to water and power were a daily occurence, the main emotion I feel is one of nostalgia. It was inconveneint, but there was  a certain freedom in figuring out how to deal. I could appreciate the strength I built in my core and arms from choosing to take showers at the gym, where water pressure was more consistent. The strength wasn’t so much from the showers themselves, but from holding MrMan at the same time and making sure we didn’t slip. Too bad I didn’t keep that up. And I can now laugh about how, for an extended period of time, my fingers would get all tingly in the shower at home. Turns out the post-storm rewiring was faulty and I was basically shocking myself every time I took a shower.
When I lived in northeast China in the mid-90s, I lived in a dorm where the water was turned off at night. So, evening outings had a deadline, met by rushing home to use the water before it was turned off. I also learned to keep bins of clean water in the bathroom and kitchen. In the late 90s, I returned from living for a few months in a thatched roof hut in a Gambian village. My water came from a well and my light from the sun and my lantern. I came back to New Orleans just in time for a huge rain and flood. As we sat in our increasingly humid house, built for air conditioning and ceiling fans rendered useless by the lack of power, and contemplated our toilet situation, I missed my mosquito net and hole in the ground.

But changing our expectations is about more than a stronger body and an interesting story. It’s about flexibility and priorities and slowing down the pace of life to allow for those priorities. Yes, long term our infrasturcture should be strengthened. And in an ideal world, we would turn the faucet and clean water would come out. (And, yes, I recognize that that is not the case for many across the world.) Some would argue that my being able to write this is an indication of my privilege. I don’t disagree. I just think that infallibility shouldn’t be an assumed part of privilege and have an appreciation for the ways in which life slows down when systems don’t work the way we expect them to.