Whenever I think of clean water, I think of the fancy kind – the ones sparkling in plastic bottles with bubbles that make it look like the water is breathing. You must have seen them being advertised on TV with drops of condensation dripping off, almost glamourously, many times making me wonder whether the bottle is weeping or sweating. They always say something like ‘contains essential minerals’ or ‘bottled at the source’. Those ads make me thirsty.
For as long as I could remember, whenever the house required ‘nice, clean’ water for the guests or the relatives who’d just landed from abroad (shout out to my aunties!) we had to buy bottled water. Reason? Well, let’s start from the fact that water rationing in Kariakor was real. We would have water maybe thrice a week, and that’s if we were lucky. So filling various containers and contraptions with water was the utmost priority. This was then followed by using this water as wisely and sparingly as possible. When it came to drinking water, it had to be boiled…and let me tell you right now that the taste of that water; especially after being heated to kill the germs, then cooled; was awful. It had the flavour of a bad joke. So when guests were in the house, it was joy all round. Until the budget would be ruined by buying said bottled water, then we had to switch to the boiled water. I’m grateful though, since I didn’t get sick from this water. I got sick from the water that tasted really good – cool, sweet and readily available from the neighbours’ kitchens, which we would quickly drink in between playing (eh. Holidays during water rationing times were on another level).
I came to realise, after a few trips to the loo and hospital, with beatings in between, that the water tasted sweet because it wasn’t boiled. It was just fetched from the tap as soon as the council was kind enough to open their valves and let our block have our share of the water that week.
Living in Mombasa was a whole other experience altogether. We all know the ocean is salty. Saltier than the personalities of some radio personalities I would rather not mention. Any boreholes dug in any compound would eventually hit a saline rock. Salt bed, they called it. Which sucked because having salty water on your tongue, in that blistering heat, is stuff that could be used to torture someone. Remember the bottled water I mentioned? Yep. They made an appearance in our home in Mombasa for a while, until they also started to wreak havoc on the household budget as well. It was back to boiling water. Goodness, the taste of warm, salty water haunts me to this day. I’d wait for the water to be super cold before I drank it. This wasn’t exactly a wise move, at least not for an 8 year old who was susceptible to sickness. Pneumonia (or something that you get because of drinking only cold water) knocked the life out of my bones once. Once was enough. It was so bad that I thought I’d never get out of bed. When I recovered, I drank the water as it was; boiled but warm. The taste was awful but the thought of medicine and lying in bed all day gave me the motivation I needed to drink it. Fast.
Fast forward to High School. Aaah. The water there was all right. First, because I was back in Nairobi so the water didn’t have a funny taste. Two, the water was cool. Three, no one policed how I drank the precious commodity. And I drank it a lot. You never really miss water until you have had to drink the kind that can kill you. However, what I didn’t know was that the water we consumed had to be treated. If it wasn’t, there would be a severe outbreak of the runs for the girls that week. Imagine close to 500 girls having upset tummies. In a week. Let’s not imagine what the loos looked like whenever this happened. Disaster. Woe unto you if that week had you on toilet washing duty, or as they called it, ablution block duty. Please note that the water came from the city council, yet again. So unless the school took that extra step to ensure the water was safe…hot water with sugar and salt was your dear friend.
Today, I live in a town that is considered a swamp by the locals. That statement alone would give you a false indication of the state of the water we get into our houses. Surprisingly, the water the Thika County Council provides is so clean, we question it. Do they treat it well? Do they treat the water at all? Wait…what’s its source? Those are the questions that someone like me, who’s had quite the unlucky streak when it comes to water consumption, has to ask before drinking or using water anywhere I go. Even when I visit friends.
If you ask me, I think they treat it. They cannot supply unsafe water, can they? They must be treating it using that Procter and Gamble water purification sachets. You may or may not have seen it, depending on your locality. If you are reading this from the arid and semi arid areas, say, Machakos or Marsabit, then maybe you have seen it. It is not just really cheap; the P&G water purification sachets is a miracle worker. Just one of those can cure up to 10 litres of water. And when I say cure, I do not just mean that it kills those living things in dirty water that most definitely do not come in peace. I also mean it can turn that brown, muddy pale of water into something crystal clear, something so clean you would feel terrible flushing the loo with it.
The stories are many, with lots of hospital visits in between of course, but the gist is that clean, drinking water shouldn’t be a privilege only a few can enjoy. Everyone should have access to water. Clean water at that. I am lucky in my privilege. I turn on my taps and clear water flows. Other people in other places do not enjoy this privilege. People in Kariokor where I grew up in, especially. For them, there is water water everywhere but not a drop to drink. I am lucky that I come from a family that took time to teach me about the importance of clean water; and the discipline me if I didn’t get it.