Life Without Water

Day 1: Around 6 PM on a Friday night, the running water gets cut off in my house. I spend the evening working at home while feeling dirty, itchy and gross, and decide to cheer myself up by going out to buy myself an unhealthy snack at the 7-11: a bottle of beer and some chicken asado siopao.

While walking to the 7-11, I notice a party taking place at a nearby house is known throughout the village for its loud, late, and frequent celebrations. I stop to ask if they have running water, and after informing me that they don’t, they insist that I join them for some beer and karaoke. Who am I to say no?

In the course of imbibing Red Horse and singing Funky Town and other super hits from the ’70s, I get to know a few of my hard-partying neighbours. One of them informs me that Maynilad, the Manila Water Company, will be doing maintenance from 6 PM to 6 AM every day for the next week. I contemplate this news while entertaining a great deal of attention from several gay men. After politely refusing the request of one man, who I had just met, to sleep over at my house, I head home to snooze off the Red Horse and the Funky Town. Sadly, water is still off.

Day 2: I wake up around 8 AM to the sound of running water inside my house. As I stand up from my bed, I immediately connect all of the pieces in my head. “Oh shit!” I say aloud, to no one in particular. Consider:

  1. My bathroom has a faucet near the floor used for filling buckets, which is the traditional Filipino method for showering and flushing toilets (though I do have a proper shower head and a toilet with its own flush, as well).
  2. If water is not running, it is difficult to tell when the faucet is closed – there is no increase in pressure as you move it into the “on” position, so you must memorize the positions and be very mindful of where you leave the switch.
  3. Recently rats have begun to crawl into my house through the bathroom drain, which is connected to another drainage area in the back yard. As such, I have gone for the rather low-tech solution of covering the bathroom drain with an old pestle when I’m not using the shower.

With all of this information in my mind and the sound of running water in my ears, it only took me a few seconds to realize that I might see something very bad when I opened my bedroom door.

Sure enough, I opened the  door to see my house flooded with water that had been running steadily for about two hours. It had long since overflowed from the bathroom and spread out into my guest bedroom, my living room, and all the way to the kitchen. My first thought was of my electronics, so I rushed to my surge protector on the floor and discovered that it had burnt itself out, literally caved in while immersed in a deep pool of water. I did turn off the main circuit breaker for the house, but in retrospect I can’t remember if I did this before or after I unplugged the surge protector – in other words, I could have conceivably killed myself. Since I live alone, my dogs could have eaten the face off my decomposing corpse before anyone found out.

I spent the rest of the morning trying to clean up the water without the benefit of indoor lighting. I swept into the dustpan, poured the dustpan into a bucket, and poured many buckets of very dirty floor water down the toilet. I stopped halfway through to shower off my thick coating of sweat, then resumed my sweeping. Once the water levels were low enough, I moved on to mopping. After three hours, I was done. I went to the mall to treat myself to some especially unhealthy fast food and buy a new surge protector, without yet knowing how many of my electronics I had destroyed through my recklessness – I was giving them time to dry off first.

I returned home to test my electronics. My laptop had been safely off the floor, but I had no idea if plugging it into its previously dampened power supply would fry it. Miraculously, aside from the imploded surge protector, everything worked fine. I spent the rest of my day filled in bliss and gratitude, and celebrated by cooking huge portions of pasta primavera and ginataang kalabasa’t sitaw (squash and string beans in coconut milk) with a very dear friend. We watch Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief, which is a pretty dire piece of cinema. Next time I get to pick the movie!

Days 3 & 4: I find myself fully in the groove of coping with the water cuts. They’re long, but at least they’re predictable, so I can keep my barrels and a wash basin full, do my nightly jog and shower before 6 PM, and I’m good. My knees ache a bit from hours of bent-over sweeping on the previous morning, but I still manage to get in my daily jogs. This week will be over in no time!

Day 5: On Tuesday, I am surprised to find the water cut earlier than usual, at 1 PM. I haven’t had the chance to fill my water stockpiles completely. I don’t take my dogs for an evening jog because I can’t spare the drinking water that they will so thirstily consume afterward. My shower with a pail is a bit meagre, and doesn’t quite leave me feeling clean. While walking back to the house from some errands, I notice a large announcement from Maynilad posted on the community bulletin board. I stop to read it, using my mediocre Tagalog skills, hoping to shed some light on the suddenly unpredictable schedule of water cuts. Before I can read the announcement to the end, my womanizing neighbour passes by on his motorbike and offers me a ride home. Who am I to turn down a ride from such a handsome young man? Off I go on the back of his motorbike, like so many ladies before me!

Day 6: I wake up to discover that the water has still not come back. I am forced to forego my usual morning ritual of washing the dishes that have piled up since the last water cut started. The dishes are already looking pretty funky, and I still have no sense of when the water will be turned back on. I start to really wish I had been paying more attention when my landlord showed me how to turn on the electric pump for well water, which earlier tenants used before Maynilad began providing service to our neighbourhood.

I have a work meeting in Quezon City the next morning, so I decide to make the trip up that night after traffic on EDSA dissipates, and grab a short-term hotel room – preferably one without mirrors on the ceilings.  According to  MMDA’s realtime reporting, northbound traffic on EDSA can be heavy until as late as 11:30 PM – Manila traffic is a topic fully worthy of its own blog post, one that will be written in due time. I get on the bus at 2 AM, which is generally not considered the safest thing to do in Manila, arrive in QC without incident, and check into a hotel, 38 hours after my last drop of running water. As soon as I enter the room, I take advantage of the running water to shave off the thickest beard I’ve ever grown. My mass of facial has achieved truly monumental proportions, partly as a protest against the lack of running water, partly because beards are in now, and partly out of sheer laziness. After I finish my shave, I have an extremely satisfying hot shower, crawl into bed, and fall fast asleep.

Day 7: I start my day in QC by reading my eBook about ExxonMobil over a leisurely McDonald’s breakfast – still my favourite breakfast in Manila! I have no difficulty making use of the free coffee refill as I learn about ExxonMobil’s devious struggle against Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan government. From there I proceed to my meeting, which is pleasant and productive. My colleague suggests that I can check at the Barangay Hall to find out if Maynilad is distributing emergency water supplies to its customers.

On the way home to Muntinlupa, it starts raining hard. I stop to pay a bill at a pawn shop nearby (because you can do pretty much everything at pawn shops in the Philippines), and the cashier cheerfully informs me that the water came briefly in the morning, but is now gone again. In other words, when I get home I can expect a full toilet and nothing else. The rain is too intense for me to visit the community bulletin board, so I take a tricycle straight home. I still get soaked on the way, but am sadly unable to squeeze any of it out into my toilet or wash basin.

I do, however, get a true royal welcome from my dogs. They rush out into the rain to greet me, yelping with joy. The house is still filthy, my dishes are still covered with two-day-old toothpaste, I now smell like wet dog (though that part is admittedly kinda cute), and there is nothing I can do about it. I make an urgent trip to the bathroom and waste about ten litres of filtered drinking by dumping it into the toilet bowl to flush down the contents. In my misguided efforts at rationing this relatively expensive water, I repeatedly underestimate the amount that must be dumped into the toilet, thereby causing me to use even more in the end. As I consider the monetary value of that single toilet flush, I feel very decadent indeed – this must be what The Good Life is. Nonetheless, I do not look forward to a Day 8.

One thought to “Life Without Water”

  1. Having known life without running water as a young child, I feel it is easier not to have running water at all than to have it off and on. If you don’t have it at all, you probably have access to a well or a water truck. When we were totally without running water for about a week a winter ago, due to the freezing and bursting of common pipes, several of my neighbours thought I was brilliant to think of melting snow. This week we were mildly inconvenienced by having the supply shut off for a couple of days but only during the day. We had it pretty easy compared with you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *