When I left home, California was in the midsts of a serious drought, and everyone was struggling to figure out how to balance “quality of life” with the new harsh orders to reduce water consumption by a significant amount. I distinctly remember telling my friends and family that one major benefit to moving to Cameroon would be that finally, I could be in a place that appreciates major rainfall, and is a green, plush paradise where I would be showering as long as I liked, without feeling guilty. The irony came crashing down on me today, as I stared down my last little bit of water in my container that, I hoped would be enough to wash my hair tomorrow.
Although Cameroon does have a lot of precipitation from the sky, as I knew, what I didn’t realize is how hard it can be to get that stuff from the sky into homes. Sure, we put as many buckets outside as we can, and if it rains on me while I’m walking home I count it as a shower for the night. What is harder is the fact that those buckets can only collect so much, and what most people rely on in my village is well water, which comes up from a spout. This is normally luxury and convenient, located just outside our door, or across the road. However, somehow this system broke….over two months ago.
When I think of how much water I use now, I appreciate just how much I’m actually conserving, thanks to our lack of plumbing. Instead of a shower head, I have my bucket less than half full, maybe with 2 gallons of water or less. Then of course I need to wash my hands pretty frequently (especially with lots of germy kids running around the house), and of course I drink 1/2 gallon a day through my Peace Corps issued filter, which totals to about 1 gallon. If I help with dishes, that’s another 7 gallons or so (3 1/2 to wash, 3 1/2 to rinse, one bucket each). If you throw in the 8 gallons I need for doing laundry once a week, you could calculate my average daily use at a little over 10 gallons, still well below the average of 70 gallons a day in California. And yet I still see the downpour outside, or see the massive ponds that I shouldn’t swim in (due to unfriendly parasites), and the muddy roads, which made my shoes inappropriate at school. I suppose now I have realized, too late, that sometimes laughing at others, you get your just reward. My container is still there, but hopefully, just maybe, by tomorrow it’ll get filled. 1 dollar, 6 kilometers, and one tired motorcycle driver later that is.