Basically anywhere you go in the world water scarcity is a problem, though often an unnoticeable one. But many places you go in the developing world water scarcity will be both present and obvious. When the rains leave and the summer season comes to Nicaragua, the result is dried up riverbeds and empty wells with nothing but dusty brown fields for a backdrop. This means frequent water shortages for much of the country. Having known this before I came here, I was preparing myself to have to haul my own water, perhaps across great distances. I saw myself with a thick tree branch resting lengthwise across my shoulders. Sturdy hooks would be screwed in near the ends of the branch and heavy buckets filled with water would be dangling from either side, swinging as I walked. Now I wasn’t preparing for this physically of course (I took advantage of having a faucet till the last moment), but I was trying to envision myself doing it. I was trying to calculate just how far is too far when it comes to hauling water for a shower. I think I decided on something like half a mile. Then I decided that I would probably be willing to walk considerably farther for a Milky Way.
But as it so happened I didn’t have to find out because I live in a place that threatens to downpour on any day, at any moment, all year long. The numbers I’ve seen say that we get anywhere from 2500mm – 5000mm of rain per year, which, given some weeks, sounds conservative. The dry season really isn’t long enough to dry out the wells. And even if it were, my town was built on the shore of the largest lake in Central America. (Interesting side note: So big is Lake Nicaragua that at some point in the past sharks must have just thought it to be another ocean and swam on in, thus giving rise to the only lake in the world containing freshwater sharks – bull sharks! Most of them, however, were killed in the 70’s by a shark fin processing plant. The fins were exported to Japan and the carcasses were left to rot in the sun.) The water isn’t really drinkable when taken directly from the lake, but thanks to creative solutions like water filters made out of porous clay, it could be easily decontaminated and made plenty safe to drink. But generally, if you turn on the faucet between the hours of 4am and 9pm, you’ll probably get water, even if it does comes out a murky brown every once in awhile. The pumps are turned off at night to conserve energy, and because they’re electric they stop when the power goes out; but as long as you keep a small reserve on hand you should never be in need. Simply put, water isn’t a major concern of people in my town.
So I blew that one; I did all that worrying for nothing. My house is also equipped with a flush toilet (where it flushes to I am still unsure) and an inch wide pipe sticking four inches out of the wall about six feet off the floor: a shower. I only take bucket showers about once or twice a month when there’s no electricity. So I was pretty much wrong there too. But there was one chore that I was sure I couldn’t be wrong about: laundry. I used to hate doing laundry; I would often wait until my only viable options were either wash my clothes or don’t leave home. But worse than loading the washing machine is being the washing machine. Hand-washing clothes invokes the help of certain muscles in my arms that I believe have been in a state of atrophy for a very long time. And I’m just one person. I couldn’t imagine doing it for a family of ten, as many women do. It doesn’t seem possible; you’d have to cheat. Although, if I ever do find myself in such a situation, I like to think that when it comes to hand-washing clothes I’m lightning quick, which is just a more encouraging way of saying that I do a pretty lousy job hand-washing clothes. Nothing ever seems that clean and a lot of the effort feels wasted. And to add insult to injury, you don’t have the luxury of having your clothes shrink back to their normal size in the dryer. Everything just gets bigger, looser, and more flowing. Couple that with the side effects of a particularly harsh bacterial infection and you look like a young child playing dress up in their parents’ clothes.
But I have learned to get the most out of the task. I like to save it for a particularly hot day and treat my wash sink like a water park. The concrete washboard is outside so I don’t have to worry about making a mess. I can blast music as loud as I want and sing while I work. And I really do enjoy seeing my clothes hanging from the lines, dripping water, and drying in the breeze and sun. It’s infinitely better than going down to the dingy basement of an apartment building to check on the state of your clothes rolling around inside of some deafening machine. Sure it takes a little longer, but because I despise folding clothes as much as washing them, the few extra hours I have to wait are more of a gift than a punishment.
**Sorry about the boring pics; I didn't have much to go on. The top one was taken from my porch and looking up the street away from the lake. There are no sewers here so most heavy rainfalls result in lots of rushing water. The second pic is yet another shot of my backyard.