October 23, 2018

Reflecting on Unsafe Water in Austin

It’s been an interesting couple of days in Austin this week. I woke up to a text from my mom letting me know there was a boil notice for our Austin city water. At 5am, I didn’t think too much of it, really… I proceeded with my morning routine – stumbling to the coffee pot and clumsily washing the dishes from the night before – and, I just added in an extra step. I wrangled my largest pot out of the cabinet, filled it with water, and lit the burner to boil it.

I announced to my 6 year-old, after she slithered out of bed an hour later, that we couldn’t drink the water from the faucet because it might be dirty. She looked at me curiously for a few seconds, then she said, “like the water in Kenya?”. Yes, baby, like the water in Kenya.

As the morning went on, and the radio voices and office talk focussed on this new inconvenience facing the city of Austin, it started to feel surreal. It’s a minor “crisis” for some, but, for most of us, it’s just a slight adjustment to our day.

I’m not minimizing this… I voiced my complaints along with everyone else. But, my team and I talked of how incredibly lucky we all still are. Where we work in east Africa, women and children walk miles and miles every day, and carry heavy jerry cans full of dirty water back to their homes just to have barely enough to drink… every single day. They don’t have the time to carry on with a “normal” life. They can’t go to work or school because this one tasks consumes the majority of their lives constantly.

Last night, when I got home, I threw another batch of water on the stove to boil, and I let the feeling of gratitude wash over me. I was standing at a faucet, in my home, running water into a pot that I only needed to turn around to put on my stove – with electricity – to “clean” it. It took me 10 minutes to make potable water in the comfort of my apartment.

In a few more days, all will be back to “normal” for us. In a few more days, the people we work with in east Africa will still be spending their days walking for water.

My daughter and I have a routine on the way to school in the mornings. We take turns saying what we’re thankful for and who we will be especially kind to that day. This morning, on day two of the Austin boil notice, she said she was thankful for clean water, and that she wanted to be extra kind to her friends at school who have to be boiling water like us.

That child is a constant reminder to me that millions of mothers are still struggling to keep their families healthy because they lack access to clean water.

Times like these provide us with an opportunity to be a little more connected with the struggles of so much of humanity. I think this is a good thing. Knowing another’s pain – albeit in just a very small way – fosters empathy. And, empathy fosters kindness and support of others.

My hope is that, as we inevitably get back to what is normal for us here, that we’re all a little more aware of what clean water means to us, and what we can do to help those who need it most.

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