Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Curiosity of Water

Since living in our own home for nearly an entire year now, I've learned a lot about water and water management.  It seems odd to be in my 30s and feel like I'm just beginning to grasp how important water is to daily life.  It's certainly something I took for granted in my pre-Peace Corps life!  So here's a little glimpse into how water impacts our life, and the ways we manage.

Pumping Water
In order for Joey and I to have water in our home, we must connect an electric water pump every few days.  Directly above our front gate, we have a giant metal box that holds all our water.  For our end of the street, water is available to pump around 10:30am and again around 9pm, give or take a couple of hours.  Lessons learned:
  • You must have electricity to pump water.  This past autumn and into winter we had a lot of power outages, which made collecting water a bit of an issue.  Crisis management: walk a few blocks to the local market and buy a giant 5-liter bottle of water when needed.
  • You can "hear" when the water is available to pump.  This has been an area of great "ear training" for me.  Our next door neighbors don't have a water tank, and they can only collect water during the two times of day.  I'm now able to hear the sounds of water coming to their home, signaling to me that it's time to pump for our own use.  I hadn't previously paid much attention to these random noises, but now my ears perk up even with the smallest drip!
  • Before I was so attuned to the neighborhood noises, we could simply turn on our landlords' yard spigot, which is connected to the water supply.  Once it starts gurgling, it's time to pump.
  • With the morning water, I pass by a big, broken water pipe on my way to work.  When the water is bubbling loudly, flowing out into the canal and onto the street, I can tell this is also a time to pump.
  • We cannot pump water when the giant metal container above our gate is frozen solid.  Sadly, this is our current situation.  BUT, we can get the ice to slowly melt by turning on our water heater, and then filling up old Coke bottles for cooking, washing dishes, and drinking water (to be boiled and filtered, of course).  It might also result in bucket baths if the weather doesn't heat up a little, or if the sun continues to be hidden behind the clouds!

Our front gate and water tank

Many people in Azerbaijan have a laundry agitator (some might actually have a washing machine), but for a lot of folks, laundry must be done by hand.  We are in the "by hand" category.  Summer is pretty easy when it comes to anything related to water.  The pipes warm up with the sun, and there is very little to do in order to prepare for a shower or to do laundry.  Winter, however, is a much bigger challenge.  Our bathroom (toilet, water heater, and shower in one big room) is about 5 feet away from our front door, and isn't technically a heated space.  Taking this all into account, we've come up with a pretty solid routine:
  • First, you must turn on the gas for the heater at least 3 hours before you're ready to wash.  (Even longer on colder days.)
  • Because it's outside, you wear lots of layers - but be prepared to get wet, especially your socks.
  • Three rounds to laundry:  Round 1).  Fill first bucket with soap, water, and laundry, agitate, ring out, throw laundry into second bucket, and pour dirty soapy water down the toilet (which is just a couple inches away from your face).  Round 2). Fill up second bucket with water and laundry, agitate, ring out, then throw laundry back into clean first bucket, and pour less soapy dirty water down the toilet.  Round 3).  Fill first bucket back up with water, follow all steps again, and then place the laundry on the clothesline outside.  WHEW!
Clothesline: In the summer the laundry dried really quickly on the line, but in the winter they have a tendency to freeze or even accumulate snow (it's a covered space, but snow tends to wander).  We try bring everything inside before it's frozen solid - we've even placed an old wooden chair next to the gas heater inside our house, which acts as a makeshift clothes dryer.  It's proven quite effective, and even adds a little moisture to the dry heat!

Since it's not easy (or enjoyable in the least) to wash clothes by hand, we've found a few ways to manage.  Luckily, it seems this might be the same way that native Azeris cope too.
  • You wear the same outfit all week long.  If you only have one set of clothes, you have less to wash.  (We've adopted this strategy through keen observation.)
  • You only wash the clothes that you really need.  For example, only the smelliest, dirtiest clothes get a rinse.  Otherwise, you can probably get another week or two out of 'em!
  • Since doing laundry uses 3 buckets of water, especially in the winter, we want to conserve as much as possible, since we're never really sure when our tank might thaw out and be ready to pump again.
  • Finally, hand washing is a back-breaking endeavor that makes your hands sore and raw.  Fee free to try it out and let me know what you think!

    Blue buckets for laundry/dishes and potential bucket baths.  
    Gas water heater in the right corner.

    Washing Dishes
    Up until this last really cold spell, we've had plenty of water in our house to wash dishes.  But, there's no hot water unless you've had the outside bathroom water heater on for several hours.  Currently, our strategy is to take our dishes out to the bathroom and wash 'em out there.  Last week, it took nearly 3 hours total to wash all the dirty dishes because we could only rinse so much before the "thawed out" water ran out.  Luckily, we have all those Coke bottles filled with back-up water.

    Our kitchen sink
    In the summer, we could shower or rinse nearly every day if we chose, and there really wasn't even the need to turn on the water heater.  Now, we shower about every 3-4 days (which is a huge improvement from a year ago, when it was every 7-9 days).  With the cold and the winter/frozen water situation, I have a much greater appreciation for water in general.  I've realized how convenient it is when everything works properly and barely have to think about a thing at all.  Now, everything associated with water involves multiple steps, which can make life really tough.  I've also come to understand some of the large discrepancies between homes, even on our own street.  Our former host family (on the same street as us, just a block down) had running water all the time, and could keep the faucet on full blast so nothing would freeze; we have a tank but can only fill it twice a day; and others have yard spigots to fill up water containers; and some families must wait for a water truck to come fill up the tanks in their homes.  (I'm sure I'm missing a few, but you get the point.)  There aren't always consistent ways to receive this life-sustaining source of water, so you're forced to always have a back-up plan (and a back-up to your back-up plan).  Now we just need to get through February (which is the coldest month of the year here in Quba), and then I can start to consider what water/conservation differences Joey and I might be able to make once we finish our service and return to America at the end of the year.  My challenge to you all is this: appreciate your water!  Are there any changes you'd like to make in your own water usage?

    1 comment:

    1. I am so excited to find your blog....I loved this post! It gave me a much better idea how local Azeri's live day to day! I am fascinated with these wonderful people that live in this country! Business brought my husband and me to Baku over a year ago(we are from America). We try to travel out of the city to surrounding villages to get a taste of local life which sometimes is difficult due to weather, language, or just not knowing where to go! We ventured to your area last year but our fear of getting lost (first time outside the city) kept us from exploring too much! We plan to make the trip again s soon as the weather permits. I was told last night by a restaurant owner that sweet potatoes were available in Quba. If so, we will definitely make that trip! I will now go read the rest of your blog with much interest....maybe one day when we are in your area or if you come to Baku, we can meet!