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Fischer, Joan (ed.) / Wisconsin Academy review
Volume 49, Number 4 (Fall 2003)

Muchhala, C. J.
Water rich, water poor,   pp. 44-45

Page 44

Water rich, water poor 
A personal reflection on varying water needs 
around the world and in different eras. 
"Fortunately, our state's waters are not in immediate crisis. We are
not among the growing 
numbers of people-estimated to reach 40 percent of the world's population
by 2015-who do 
not have enough water for basic needs..." 
Gaylord Nelson, former US. senator, Wisconsin governor, 
and founder of Earth Day, writing in the 
Wisconsin State Journal, October 7, 2002 
I take it for granted that water flows 
from the tap and, when I will it, the 
water flows hot. But at our lake cabin, 
the water runs upward of 60 seconds 
before it even begins to warm. This 
exasperates me. 
One summer I am alone at our cabin 
when the pump fails. I have to haul buck- 
ets of lake water to flush the toilet. I begin 
to conserve the water in the tank. "Three 
pees and a flush" becomes my mantra. I 
heat water on the stove to do dishes, buy 
water from the store for drinking and 
cooking. I learn to build a fire in the 
sauna stove on the first try. The sauna is 
my only source of hot bathwater. 
The week I am without running water, I 
think a lot about poor women-in Africa, 
India, South America-whose days are 
spent fetching water on foot from wells 
miles from their homes. I begin to appreci- 
ate the unfettered flow of water from a tap. 
While visiting our son in Quito, we 
carry bottled drinking water wherever 
we go. I take a lukewarm shower in the 
mornings. If I ran the shower all day, it 
would go dry before I got hot water. I get 
into the habit of tossing used toilet 
paper into the plastic-lined basket found 
in every bathroom, public or private. 
The ancient septic system can barely 
handle the water, let alone paper. 
While vacationing in Beijing and 
Shanghai, I am always surprised when I 
turn on the tap and the water runs clear, 
and cold or hot at my desire. I am in a 
five-star hotel. Most hutongs (back- 
streets) have communal faucets. We 
carry imported bottled drinking water 
wherever we go. 
In Mumbai, where my husband and I 
lived for three months, the city water 
supply is turned on for several hours 
early each morning. The homeless queue 
up with lotas (water jugs) to collect their 
day's water supply at public faucets 
located throughout the city. Women bal- 
ancing full lotas on their heads are a 
common early-morning sight. 
They have no backup plan. If they 
don't get to the tap in time, their fami- 
lies don't have water for the day. 
We, too, carry water-UV-treated and 
bottled. Even the city fathers admit the 
nTnfor icfl'tf o M ยข rnlmhniln'rc nrc'=r~ 
to boil their drinking water. Most do. 
Almost every building has a water 
tank on the roof to collect the city water. 
A friend, unfortunately, lives with an 
erratic tank. For whatever reason, it 
doesn't always maintain or distribute its 
portion of the water supply. So when the 
water comes in, she fills buckets and 
buckets from the tap, just in case the 
tank plans to take a day off. 
When I use the WC at her flat, I pour in 
a bucket of water to flush. I wet my 
hands in another bucket, soap them, 
and dip water with a small cup to rinse. 
When we visit a relative's office, I find 
the staff have kindly saved the one auto- 
matic flush for "Madam." 
At the Ajanta Caves near Aurangabad, 
there is a 30-gallon tank of water in the 
public WC. I scoop water out of this tank 
to flush the toilet. There is no running 
water. Ajanta is a major tourist attrac- 
tion, drawing an international crowd. 
Those in the know carry an antibacterial 
gel lotion that cleans the hands without 
water-we hope. 
One day our Mumbai apartment inex- 
plicably "loses" its hot water. My hus- 
band takes a cold shower. I cannot. Nor 
can I do without my daily bath. 
When I was a child, our family took our 
weekly baths on Saturday night, the only 
exception being my father, who went to 
Juola's Sauna, a commercial establish- 
ment, for his weekly cleansing ritual. We 
girls were allowed a couple of inches of 
bathwater. During the week, we washed 
our hair and took "sponge baths" by fill- 
ing the sink. 
I have already forgotten what it's like 
to haul water from the lake. The room 
boys bring two buckets of boiling water 
for "Madam" each morning until the hot 
water mysteriously returns. 
We take the metro train to 
Mahalakshmi to see the dhobi ghat. We 
exit the station, take the stairs up to the 
pedestrian bridge, and there, spread 
below us, is one of Mumbai's largest 
open-air laundries, where dhobis (wash- 
ermen) beat the populace's clothes- 
ours included-to cleanliness. Acres of 
cement stalls are filled with murky gray 
wash water. This is the entire supply of 
water for the day's load of laundry. 

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