Sunday, January 28, 2018

the great thirst

It sounds like a David Attenborough episode - The Great Thirst - maybe the one in which we watched in horror as a baby elephant slowly shriveled away and died because the rains didn't come in time?

Or maybe it sounds like a sci-fi movie - The Great Thirst - in which water is a dwindling resource and one of the most beautiful cities in the world is slowly crumbling apart as residents flee and businesses crash because the rains didn't come in time?

Or maybe it's a song - The Great Thirst - a melodic melancholic yearning for water, for lushness ... a cracked and rasping voice singing of dust, drought and despair, because the rains didn't come in time?

What it really is, is our coming reality.

The drought which has been growing in severity for the last 3 years is now well and truly upon us. We have been told to prepare for Day Zero.
(cue music: dunt duh daaaaaaa)
Day Zero sounds even more like a sci-fi movie doesn't it?

And it's hard to believe when you're sitting on the stoep with a block of ice melting in your glass of Chenin and the lake water lapping at your feet ... but as of Friday it is predicted that 21 April (UPDATE: apparently 12 April is the new date) will be the day that our dam capacity will be too low to support the city and the central water system for Cape Town will be turned off - and remain off until the winter rains (fingers crossed) bring substantial water back to our dams - some say this could take 6 months.
Day Zero. For 180 plus days, or thereabout.

How do you prepare for such an event? I mean, WTAF right?

As always, some are luckier than others. As always, people start showing great creativity and resourcefulness in times of trouble.
And, as always, one realises pretty quickly how much less one can use, how much more one can do without.

Laundry, while we still have water, gets done on shorter cycles, capturing the rinse water and using it for the first wash of the next cycle (thank goodness for top loaders).
Toilets, while we still have water, get left to only be flushed two or three times a day, and never with potable water, always with grey (thank goodness for our shower over bath and how easy this makes capturing all shower water).
Dishes can be wiped with paper towel, faces (and hands and feet and well, everything) can be wiped with face wipes, clothes and bedding can be hung out to air and reworn/reused, cars can stay dirty, windows smeared and opaque, houseplants can live on dribbles of leftover tea, hair can be sprayed with dry shampoo, corn and pasta and potatoes can be boiled in the same water, which once cooled can nurture a few more potted plants. Lawns can die. Swimming pools can sink and fester. Floors can survive with a good sweep and a spot clean.
Middle-class civilisation can do without all the perceived trappings of normality and convenience. We can survive more than we think.

But it's not easy. Lugging water is hard work, thinking about water use is time-consuming, continually reminding children to conserve water requires a delicate balance of making sure they're doing their bit but not freaking them out with too much doomsday hype.

And yet this drought is the greatest illustration of white privilege ever - just down the road from us live hundreds of people who have NEVER had a home with running water, a flush loo or a hot tap. Queuing for water, going without, going dirty, is a daily reality for millions of families around the world.

I get to sit on my stoep with a chilled glass of wine and puzzle this out. I have a rain tank (albeit empty) which (hopefully) will fill when the rains come (fingers crossed) and give us water before the taps come back on, I have family with a borehole, resources to buy and transport 25l water drums back and forth once a week to collect water from them for cleaning and flushing, I can buy bottled water, I can take my family out of the city to have a break from it all should it come to that.

As my girlfriends and I like to remind ourselves as we puzzle out the daily conundrums of living with minimal water, as we swap tips and advice and support each other - after this, for there will be an after this, we will be fucking hardcore. And our taps will come back on, and we will remain the lucky ones.

Husband went to Johannesburg on business for a day, brought back some water for our weekend whisky ice.
Good husband.

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