One of my earliest memories is as a toddler. I was sitting in a large metal basin not quite half full of water. We were outside and my mother was bathing me. I don’t know why or how I remember this, but I remember it like a photograph even though there were no such pictures.
A few years later I visited my great aunt in Manila. It was an exciting adventure to go into the city. I remember many feelings from that trip, but the only picture I held in my mind was the shower. I remember feeling proud to have a family with a shower and that must be because my great aunt was proud of it. She brought me outside to the street where wooden boards stood to hide us from view. She showed me how to pull the rope, which I could scarcely reach or grasp with my small hands. The bucket above was empty at the time, but I imagined the gush of water I would have felt. In my early years, water meant cleanliness and this was important.
When I was six years old, my mother and father married and we traveled to the United States. We visited my grandparents and I stayed in their house that had two bathrooms, inside. There was a picture taken of me in the bathtub laid out on my belly as if I were swimming. The water was flowing from the spout and I was laughing.
For the next few years, I lived within a block of the Atlantic ocean.This is when I learned that ocean water is very different from drinking water. I learned that while the majority of Earth is covered with water, vast regions lack access to clean or usable water sources.
At age 11, I moved to Izmir, Turkey where running water was sometimes unpredictable. Many apartments had both a modern bathroom and an old Turkish toilet. This is a small tiled room with a hole in the floor where you can take care of business even without running water. Though it is best if you have a bucket of water to wash it all down the pipe. Over the next three years, I learned the price of water. In some countries, you have to pay for drinking water or pay to use the toilet in public places. Needless to say, if I had to pay for water, I chose instead to drink Fanta and Coca Cola.
I did return to the U.S. We moved to Texas where summer droughts are common and there are often water restrictions. Granted our access to water was still abundant and likely wasteful. At 19, I became a lifeguard. In Texas, pools are prevalent to beat the summer heat, but it must be on the list of wasteful water usages. Pools are a luxury and not everyone can afford one or afford a membership to a gym that has a one. They are fun, and in my short experience as a lifeguard, they are also dangerous. Let’s just say, I have a deep respect for the way water can give and take life.
When I was 21, I joined the U.S. Army and during boot camp, I ended up in the hospital for dehydration. Remember, that when given a choice between paying for soda and paying for water I often chose soda. When soda was not an option, I failed to drink enough water because I was never much of a water drinker. Now, I drink plenty of water. It’s often my beverage of choice. I also notice other ways in which my history has affected how I use water.
I wake up every morning and walk into the bathroom. I put toothpaste on my brush and a few dribbles of water. I’m not one to leave the faucet running. I try to keep my showers short, but I admit, I don’t like getting in before the water has heated up. I’m torn between waste and discomfort. I run the dishwasher only when it’s completely full. We have an Energy Star rated washer and dishwasher. I check our water bill usage every month and question when it goes up. I am disturbed when there is a leak or a running toilet.
I am grateful for technological advances. From aqueducts to irrigation to indoor plumbing to water purification. I am grateful for reliable access to water flowing through the pipes and faucets of my home. I know from experience that not everyone has access to this life-changing benefit.
When I visit countries such as India, I am reminded of my past. I’m reminded that the world is not so different. That I am fortunate to live in a different place with a different set of privileges than where I was born.
My relationship with water is one that exposes both a life in poverty and fortune by mere parentage. It also defines my opportunities, my regrets, and my choices. I am grateful, I am aware, and I am part of the solution.