I never realized how much and how often I use water until I recently was without water for 72 hours. It also took such an experience for me to understand one reason why Paraguayans are so helpful—they’re used to muddling through inconveniences like no water.
Now, let’s set the record straight. For a portion of my childhood my family lived without running water; I am not opposed to hauling water from wells or streams. I am not against using compost toilets or latrines. But when the motor to my community’s water pump broke, I was up a very dry creek because I neither have a well nor a latrine. There are no streams near my house. To make matters worse, the night the water went out was the night I was planning to do laundry. I air-dry my clothes, so staying ahead is critical because it can sometimes take days for clothes to dry.
I have perhaps 10, 2-liters bottles of water for times when the water doesn’t work. It’s not uncommon for it to go out for a couple hours or for a day. I keep a basin of water for bathing—I’ll be damned if unreliable water keeps me from exercising whenever I want. But, like every time the faucet sputters with the cheeky emptiness of air, I fear that it won’t come back for a long time. And, on this most recent occasion my nightmare did come to pass:. Days without water.
I can bathe with six liters of water (or less if I don’t wash my hair). But, what about flushing the toilet? Washing dishes? Washing my hands? Drinking water? Tea? Terere? Laundry?
The point is that no water is bad news bears.
But, the wonderful thing about Paraguay, and my community, is people are helpful. Further, the water was only out in one half of my community and many people still have wells from the days before town water. I got several offers to go to people’s houses to shower and wash my clothes. I took up the offer on the third day, fearing the worst because some people in the community said the water would be back that day and some said it wouldn’t come back until the end of the week. I lugged my laundry, soap, fabric softener, and several empty bottles to a friend’s house. Little bucket by little bucket I harvested water from her well to wash my clothes and fill my bottles. I’ve washed my clothes by hand since coming to Paraguay, but never at a neighbor’s house. My clothes washed and rinsed, I stuffed them in plastic bags and in my backpack and tromped back to my house—dripping the whole way—to hang them on my clothesline. The water came back after that, if it hadn’t I would have started a shower rotation among friends’ houses.