Thursday, October 20, 2011

WAH, WAH!!!!

Welcome back!

Today is a very special day: I have been a Peace Corps Volunteer for 18 months! I've completed 75% of my service! Unreal. Recently, I find myself thinking about "what's next?", and I've come to the conclusion that I've got plenty of ideas but am not ready to think about "life after Uganda" yet. Hey... maybe you can help me. So far I've got:

1. Appalachian Trail
2. Pacific Crest Trail
3. Firefighting in California, Utah or Colorado
4. Biking across the country
5. Becoming an astronaut
6. Writing a book

To be honest, I'm leaning towards "all of the above." Figures.

Enough of that...

I wanted to throw up a short post about: H2O. Dihydrogen Monoxide. WATER.

And away we go.

More than likely, you, who are reading this blog from a developed country, take water for granted. In the US, we drink water from sinks, showers and from shiny machines hanging from walls (water fountains) without thinking twice. After all, we pay taxes to insure that someone, somewhere, cleans that water and pumps it to us using something else you probably take for granted: water pressure!

Sure, there are areas where overpopulation is quickly depleting the aquifer (ahem, Albuquerque...), but for the most part, water is not in short supply. Even in those places where water SHOULD be a concern, people still pump drinking water into big white basins and then release it with chrome-plated levers to flush their toilets.

Things are different in Uganda. All water is dirty until purified, chemically treated or boiled. There is rarely a functioning water system and then only in the bigger towns/cities. The following pictures illustrate how I've dealt with the issue of water and also how my fellow townspeople deal with it.

In Kyenjojo, there actually is a small water system in place. Water is pumped from the swamp up to giant tanks on the hill. From there it is dispersed to paying customers around town. As far as I can tell, there are about six paying customers (I exaggerate... there are probably at least twelve)... almost no one here can afford to get their water by such a developed method. Furthermore, the water system is often broken-down for one reason or another. When the water is flowing, it only flows for a short time in the mornings, so during that time, people fill their jerry cans for the day or fill their 50 or 100L rain tanks.

I decided immediately that I hated bucked baths and doing dishes in trough filled with dirty food-water, so I plugged a small tap into a 10L Jerry-can and made a portable water system. Here, it is shown acting as a sink (Steve and Tiff, do you recognize anything in this pic?). This pic also shows my "kitchen" where I chop my veggies and prepare my pancakes. The counter is made of rough boards, and the supporting pedestal is made of beer crates (taken from the hotel... I don't drink THAT much).

I live on the third floor at my hotel and in a wing that is not connected to the giant rain tanks outside. Thus, in order to shower I take my sink from my room and hang it on a nail on the wall. By opening the tap slightly and allowing only a trickle of water, I can usually take a shower with 3 Liters of water (3 Nalgene's full) if I don't wash my hair... which is often. This is like lathering up and rinsing off using a small water-gun.

Side note: When I tell my stories to Michelle, many times she answers with "Ugh..." or "You're gross." For Example, and I'm almost embarrassed to admit this but... : There are periods where I will not wash my hair until my head itches. It takes about 15 days to get to that point... This usually occurs during the dry season when I am beyond anal about how much water use.

Ugh. Gross.

These are my 20L jerry-cans. I use about 2.5 of these a week. I accomplish this by: (a.) Showering every 2-3 days (only on the days I work out), minimizing dishes (I rarely wash my pots and pans... you know... because the heat will take care of the germs!), and wearing the same clothes multiple times before washing them (I cannot believe I am admitting this... I'll wear a shirt boxers 4+ days before putting them into the "for work outs"-pile where they get a few more uses before going to the laundry pile. If I do that with boxers... imagine how I treat t-shirts and pants).

Ugh. Gross.

This is quickly becoming an article about how disgusting I am as a human being. Whoops!

Anyway... I thought I'd pose a challenge to you readers: Disregarding the water you use to flush your toilets and the water used to wash your clothes, I challenge you to use only 50 liters of water in a week. Try it for just a week, and let me know how it goes.

General Ecology First Need Water Purifier: Hands down the BEST water purifier on the planet earth. Notice: I said PURIFIER, not FILTER. This bad boy takes everything out of the water all the way down to Viruses. Today is not only my 18-months-as-a-volunteer celebration, it is also the 8 month-a-versary since I put this particular purifying cartridge into the first need. The website rates these filters as good for around 150 gallons of water. But check this out: at an average of 4 liters a day for 8 months, I've purified around 960 liters of water or 253 gallons of water! And it is STILL going strong. (The trick, of course, is that I am purifying water that has been allowed to settle, so I am not mucking up the filter with large particles.)

When not using a filter or iodine tables, bottle water is available everywhere in Uganda for around 1200 Ugx for a 1.5 L bottle.

Why use a filter? Easy: I don't have the time to boil my water (nor do I want to spare the fuel on my gas stove), and I hate the taste of the chemical treatment known as "Water Guard" that amounts to nothing more than diluted bleach. I use iodine when I'm in the mountains... but for every-day use, nothing beats a First-Need.

The rain tank: My primary source for water. You would not believe how quickly a hotel where almost no one stays can empty this multi-thousand liter tank. A week?

The spring: My secondary source for water. As you can see, the spring often goes dry. Even when it flows, it is nothing more than a small trickle, so it takes about 30 to 40 minutes to fill a jerry-can. The good thing about the spring is that I've never seen it swarmed with people. As it takes so long to fill cans, people are more inclined to take their water from the borehole or the swamp. The benefit of using the spring is that I can kick back and read a book while technically fetching water.

The Borehole: My tertiary source of water. There are several boreholes around Kyenjojo where people go to get water. Boreholes are drilled by NGOS all over Africa, and they often fall into disrepair. In Kyenjojo, for example, I've come across three that are broken down. (The most common problem with the bore-hole occurs from broken handles. The next most common is from failures in the one-way valves deep in the hole.) Typically, as the community has no ownership of the hole, when they break they simply stay broken until (a.) the original NGO returns to pay for the repair or (b.) a volunteer from another organization comes in and pays for the repair. (c.) There are instances in Uganda where PCVs have organized water committees and pooled community funds to make the repairs, this in an attempt to instill a sense of ownership of the hole in the future. There is a committee for this particular hole, and members who wish to use it must pay a few dollars a year for access.

Water that comes out of these holes is often clean, as they are drilled to such great depths that the earth has acted as a filter to anything nasty. However, it does not mean that a hole is impermeable to disease. Unskilled repair-men can soil the components, and often (as is the case with this particular hole which is drilled at the level of the swamp, and thus not very deep), they are NOT deep enough to act as a proper filter.

While the Ugandan's I've encountered are aware that water must always be boiled before consumption to avoid illness, the number one killer of children under the age of 5 years old remains dehydration caused by diarrhea. Thus, the battle to implement better water/sanitation systems around the country rages on.

Women carrying 20L jerry cans from the bore-hole back to their homes. "A pint's a pound the world around!" meaning these women are carrying around 42 pounds of water each for a half-mile or more. Beast.

If all else fails, I could (but never would), get water from here: The swamp. This is probably the dirtiest water around, as it contains the runoff from the city and shallow latrines around the area. A layer of oil shimmers on its surface.

In the center of the picture you can see fish-ponds. Kyenjojo town can be seen in the distance.

When I first arrived in Kyenjojo, this road was nothing more than a walking path. I guess you can call this "development," but frankly, its done little for the residents except increase the likelihood that they'll be hit by a car in a place where once only pedestrians, bicycles and motorcycles traveled.

This is James and Stetson. They have nothing to do with water. But just look at those smiles!

Thanks for reading!

I love you all (but especially you, Michelle!).



  1. This is quite amazing. I've enjoyed reading about your adventures when I get the chance. I'm sure you will come home with a completely changed vision of the world and the United States. Maybe we will get the chance to catch up someday.

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