One of my goals for 2015 is to use less water.
Today I was taking a cold shower in Funafuti, Tuvalu and found myself instinctively turning off the water while I lathered up my body and untangled my mess of curls, a habit that I have picked up since I started this trip in September.
Hot showers aren’t an option in Tuvalu, and with the average day well over 30 degrees Celsius, I can’t say that I would opt for a warm shower even if I could. All water for drinking and household use in Tuvalu’s nine coral atolls comes from the rain. In decades past there was a groundwater supply, but those sources have become salty in tandem with rising sea levels.
Fortunately it is the rainy season, but between rain showers there is always the question: will there be enough water in the tank to get through the day? And if not, how can we cut back?
Alofa, my host, gets around this hesitation by sneaking into her workplace bathrooms after hours to bathe. She has the keys, and no one else is using the water in those big tanks, right? The bigger the roof, the more water that funnels into the water tanks, and the Tuvalu Telecom building, a mere two-minute walk from her home, has one of the largest roofs in Funafuti. I don’t ask Alofa if it is kosher for us to bathe there, but the whole ordeal has an air of secrecy about it. We always enter through the back door.
Under the Telecom shower spigot I relax. Cool water drips down my back, washing away days of caked-on sweat. To my surprise, a layer of memory unearths itself, too, distant in both time and space.
Dance class, the early 2000s, suburban Connecticut. We were allowed one trip to the drinking fountain in the middle of class, but only if we asked nicely. The water fountain at the end of the hall was a two-tiered production across from the basketball court. The water pressure was such that you couldn’t drink from both fountains at once. We were always in a rush––our dance teacher would be testy if we took too long. Ballet was serious work.
Once granted permission to drink all fifteen of us would sprint down the hallway in our ballet flats to see who would get to the fountain first. Those who arrived last would linger by the door to the basketball court, watching the boys play with a kind of wide-eyed intensity that mystified me even then. I always chose a second helping of water over a glimpse a so-and-so’s supposedly dreamy arms.
Courtney was a slow runner, but lo on you if she was behind you in line. That girl was pushy. “Save some for the fishes!” she would shout, nudging my shoulders while I sipped from the fountain’s arc. This was code for: get out of the way, I’m thirsty. That girl ruled the roost and she knew it.
But it isn’t the fishes who need water saved for them. It’s us.
In San Francisco I met a nurse in a cancer ward who caught the water that came out of her tub in a watering can while the tap was warming. With this water she grew a back porch vegetable garden. The simplicity of this gesture struck me as so beautiful. She kept the watering can by her tub, always at the ready.
What steps can I take to save water? How far am I willing to alter my daily routine to accomplish this goal?
When, as in the case of Tuvalu, might it become a necessity for us all to conserve?
Is waiting for that point too late?