Thursday, April 28, 2011

Would You Rather

In my site, the water supply and electricity are both fairly unpredictable. They come, they go, always without warning. When I first moved out here, the power was more of a problem, probably because November and December are notoriously windy. As the dry season wore on, the water started going out more and more frequently, for longer periods of time. One day I mentioned the inconsistency of these services to my dad, and he asked which was worse.

I thought about it.

There are no water bills in my town. If there is water, everyone can use as much as they want. As soon as the water is used, we all have to wait for the water deposit to fill back up. At the beginning of the dry season this wasn't such a big deal because water was still plentiful. The second faucet up at my cottage dripped incessantly. The faucet down at the main house broke and had to be turned on and off at the water main. That meant that it would sometimes run on low for a day or two without stopping. It certainly was a waste of water, but the family didn't have to pay any more for using more water, and the neighbors didn't care because they still had water. After a few months both faucets got fixed.

In my aldea, we have three separate water sources (springs up the mountain), fed through town in PVC pipes. I have access to two of these springs with chorros / water faucets near my cottage. The one by my pila is the goes out most often, but most of the time I can just cart water from the second faucet across the patio in my black bucket and get my dishes done that way. I usually wait for a morning when the water is on at the pila to tackle clothes washing, since that goes through a lot of gallons. The water source down at the shower I rent from the aunt down in the family compound rarely goes out, so my showers are only affected once and awhile.

So, water is really important for washing dishes, clothing, and myself. It's also really helpful for cooking, although I do have big bottled water jugs that I can use in a pinch (I prefer to use chorro water in cases where I need to boil it anyway.... rice, pasta, tea...). The most annoying thing about it is that there is no schedule. I know other volunteers who have water only two days a week, but they always know which two days those will be. They invest in a few big containers, and just know they need to refill them on the requisite days. It's the randomness that bothers me. When my water goes off it might come back on in two hours, or it might come back on in five days. There's just no way of knowing.

On the other hand.

The electricity can be out for most of a day and I won't notice. I don't use overhead lights during the day, my refrigerator stays pretty cool so long as I don't open and close it much, and my laptop has pretty good battery power, since I mostly just play music on it while I move around cleaning or reading or gardening.

Once the evening rolls around, and it gets very dark in my house, I definitely notice the lack of electricity. Happily, my stove is gas powered, so I can still cook just fine. I actually spent most of two months living by candlelight because the wiring to my overhead lights was faulty, but that's beside the point. The main thing I miss when the power goes out is my forms of entertainment. It's hard on the eyes to read by candlelight.  Once my computer battery goes out, I can't watch movies or listen to my much beloved podcasts (all hail NPR and PBS).

But, I'll admit, the big thing is the internet. If the power goes out where I am, so does my internet. If the power goes out across the valley but stays on where I am, out goes my internet. I get a wireless signal from another town, so I'm doubly affected by electrical blips. Now, when I entered the Peace Corps, I didn't know if I would have internet more than maybe once a week or a few times a month. I was prepared for that. I was able to get online once or twice a week during training and coped just fine.

But now I'm spoiled. Now I have internet just about all the time anytime, and it's pretty fast, too. Now I live alone, so I don't have a host family to talk with at night. Or a host family's TV to watch with them. When the internet is gone, I miss my news. I miss my podcasts. I miss my email. I miss Skype.

On balance...

...the reality is that I'm able to get by well with both of these amenities being a bit unpredictable. It's lovely that we can count on both of these things day or night in all but the strangest of circumstances in the U.S. If our utilities go out, it's usually a short phone call to find out why, and to know when they will be back.

Here, that's definitely not the case. They come and go and we are subject to them. It's inconvenient, but it doesn't stop the world. It does mean I build up a day or two of dishes at a time, or have to wait an extra week to do laundry now and again. It means I miss Skype dates, or they get cut short. Since I'm not working on a computer for my job and I don't have a tightly packed schedule like the one I kept in the states... mostly it reminds me that I don't control things, and that's okay.

In the end, I think I'd go for losing power over losing water if we're talking about a long term thing. For two weeks, I could get used to going to bed with the sun, writing letters by hand, and getting my guitar out to play a little more often. I do not want to go two weeks without bathing, without washing dishes, or without being able to mop my floor. On a bad day, a call home makes me feel better than scrubbing the laundry (usually), but water? Water is essential to life.

The question is, which would you rather?

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