Thursday, 5 July 2012

How to Get a Glass of Water on an Island

Many moons ago, I flew into Boston to meet Seth's family for the first time. He had invited me for Thanksgiving but I said no because of a work commitment. When that was later rescheduled I decided it would be fun to surprise him. He had previously put me in touch with his sister so she helped me out and did the necessary communication with his parents. Unfortunately, because he didn't know I was coming, he decided to go visit his grandmother in New York for a few days. So after about 18 hours of travel on four flights (including two un-air conditioned prop planes) to get from the tiny outer of of the Bahamas I was living on to Boston, I met Seth's family for the first time around midnight in the baggage claim area of Logan Airport. It was glamorous.

They drove me back to their house and gave me a quick tour so I could get some sleep. It consisted of showing me where the bathroom and kitchen were. And then I said it. I still remember it. I looked around confused and asked where I was supposed to get a drink of water from. I think I said something like, "Am I supposed to just drink water from the tap?" Eighteen hours of travel. Two prop planes. There had been goats grazing on the runway for my first flight. I changed out of flip-flops into a sweater at the Orlando airport surrounded by middle aged women wearing every piece of Micky Mouse paraphernalia ever manufactured. It had been a looong day. And my boyfriend's mom that I was meeting for the very first time said so very politely, "Well, yes, we just drink water from the tap here at our house." 

But my brain was tired and for nearly two years I hadn't been drinking water out of the tap, so I forgot people even do that. (Longer if you count the two previous years that I had been living in the sorority house in college. They locked us out of the kitchen to deter midnight fridge raids but gave us a water cooler in the dining room so that we wouldn't dehydrate and die.) In the Bahamas my tap water came from a dirt well dug out in the front yard. It had a sheet of plywood over the top of it and small amphibious creatures that swam around inside it. You could lift up the plywood and count the creatures for fun. I could use it to shower and wash dishes but not drink. Here on St. Thomas we use gutters to catch rain water off our roof and it goes into a cistern below the room I'm sitting in right now. Three feet away from my computer is one of those little round pool filter covers in the floor. I can take that cover off, shine a flashlight down, and see how full it is of water. It supplies water to our taps for showering, washing dishes, toilet flushing, etc. Water is gold here. You don't waste it. Unless you want to call a truck to come pump several hundred dollars worth of it into your dry empty cistern. 

It also likely has amphibious creatures living in it. And possibly dying in it. Not that they've ever floated by my flashlight beam. But they can't fool me. I know they're there. So you don't drink that water either. You buy drinking water that has been purified through a reverse osmosis system (basically taking the salt out of sea water). And every month or so you go buy more. Here's how it works. We gather up all our empty bottles. (That's six 5 gallon jugs and two boxes each holding six 1 gallon jugs.)

Load them into our car and head to a store that sells RO water. Pay for the water and then fill the jugs up one by one. (When you get good, you know which spouts send out water the fastest. But I'm not going to tell you which ones here. That's too easy.)

Now at this point you might think we're done. But we're not. We have to actually get them back into the house. Our parking area and our car are separated by a five foot wall. They have to be lifted down off the wall (seriously, we discussed the issue of that wall and water when considering this place) in through the kitchen, and into the living room where they're stored. One by one.

And one at a time they're brought into the kitchen and attached a pump. Ever woken up in the morning in an exhausted zombie-like haze just to find out you have to drag in a new five gallon jug and attach the pump before you can make coffee? Seth has. Pump the pump to fill your pots, or the container of drinking water in the fridge, or if you're feeling daring, to fill up your ice trays. Get a dog to lick up the absurd amount of water off of the floor after you pumped to hard and it kept filling long after you filled up whatever you were pumping into.

So please, appreciate the drinking water that magically flows out of your faucet or fridge door. And don't judge me if I visit and make some bone-headed comment about drinking from the tap.

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