Adapting Abroad: Water

The most vital thing to life, and the thing that requires the most habits changed, I thought water seemed like the place to start.

Before I came, I had to have the typhoid injection and a course of cholera vaccinations. The two drinks tasting of artificial raspberry and ‘fizzy’ from the pH buffer were not pleasant, nor was being unable to eat or drink for the prior and following hour. However, it is a small price to pay in order to avoid a fever, abdominal pain, headaches, rashes (typhoid), diarrhea, vomiting and muscle cramps (cholera). Both can caused by bacteria entering the body via water contaminated by feces.

The water here is not the same grade as the water at home. Theoretically, I could drink the water that goes into the toilet at home and be fine (as long as it hadn’t left the cistern). This is because our toilet is fed by the mains’ water which is drinking grade.

Doing the same here would be a very bad idea. The mains water is not purified as much as the UK’s so not all bacteria has been removed. Even tap water can’t be drunk. If you wish to drink, you have three option; buy bottled water, boil a pan and let it cool or use a water filter.

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The water dispenser in our kitchen, and a bucket to catch any drips so nothing is wasted.

At the Guest House, we use filters. Safe water is poured into blue containers, like in office water coolers. When we want a drink, we dispense from the tap at the bottom. If the water level is running low, you prep someone strong to replace the empty container with a new one.

The water tastes strange, and you have to decide whether it is natural minerals that are different to what you’re used to (like the difference between hard London water and soft water in the Lake District) or that the filter is old and needs replacing. I personally fill up my water bottle at school each day, because I think it tastes better.

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Teeth cleaning essentials.

Another consequence of unclean water is that you have to clean your teeth from a bottle or mug of safe water. it is rather awkward at first as you decide whether you are better off sipping water and swilling out your mouth or just pouring water over your toothbrush as if from a tap. I am a subscriber to the latter method, as the first reminds me too much of hikes on Dartmoor (the former being the method we all used when we bothered to brush our teeth).

Other consequences are how you clean food (to be covered in Food at some later point) and that, before you eat or prepare food, you need to wash your hands and dry them. Nor can you just grab a bowl from the drying up without drying it off, lest there is any microbial presence in the water droplets.

Everyday, water from the holding tank on the ground floor is pumped up to the tanks on the roof and some into the solar heaters for hot water. We are lucky to have a well in the house too (topped up by mains water), so we have a good supply of water.

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The monsoon from the second sitting room’s and my windows. Holding tanks are (just) visible on the roof in the top picture.

It is currently the monsoon season, and the sky regularly opens up releasing a deluge of water that makes it almost impossible to go out or sleep. It seems unlikely, then, that Nepal suffers from water shortages. There is great deal of water in the country, certainly in the monsoon season, but the infrastructure to bring water from the far away sources when the rains dry up is limited. Once the rains stop, we will need to be even more careful with our water.

The cistern has bricks in it to reduce the water wasted when flushed (another reason not to drink the water; there can be bits of brick floating in it!), but if the water is scarce, I will have to discuss with the other two ladies sharing the bathroom when we flush. The (probably apocryphal) Australian phrase comes to mind: if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.

The sewer system is rudimentary to say the least, and easily becomes clogged if you flush any sort of paper down it. It’s a hard thing to remember, as it seems so weird. Worst of all is the dazed middle of the night rush. Suffice to say, the toilet has need to be unblocked already.

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A bucket to catch any unwanted shower water.

When showering, while you wait for the water to warm up (thanks to the solar heater), the cold water is caught in a bucket that can be used for cleaning the floors, or flushing the toilet if the situation is that bad. You learn how to have impossibly fast showers while still getting clean, something I will undoubtedly be grateful for when the sun is less frequent and showers get colder.

Water is frequently wasted in richer countries, so it’s a shock when you realise how careful you have to be with it. It takes two weeks to break a habit and over two months to form a new one so we’ll probably have a few more blocked toilets to contend with before long.

 

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