(This post has been sitting in my drafts for a couple of years. Now, that we’re on a “boil” order in my county in northeast Kansas in July 2011, I thought again of how we take our clean water for granted. I wrote this about a visit to Honduras, where you can’t drink the water from the tap.)
It’s early on a February morning in 2007, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and already hot. I don’t mind. Back home in Kansas City it’s freezing.
Behind the courtyard wall, I wait at the gate, listening. I’m an early riser so I volunteered to make the water bottle exchange.
“You’ll know when they’re coming,” my friend Michael told me the night before. “They call out “Agua Azul, Agua Azul.” He likes the sound of it. “It’s like a call to prayer.”
Most societies and religions find spiritual and cleansing properties in water, so Michael is right about that.
Three large empty bottles sit on the driveway near the gate. I hear the faint call, and I lean out to look.
I see a truck slowly rumbling down the steep incline of street in this affluent neighborhood in the capital city of Honduras. The back of the truck is stacked with large water bottles.
“Agua Azul. Agua Azul.”
I wave my hand at the truck. A man darts to the gate, grabs the empty bottles and replaces them with full ones. He hops back on the truck and continues his call. “Agua Azul. Agua Azul.”
Now we’ll have purified water for the next couple of days. We go through it quickly, using it for everything that passes our lips. The water truck comes three mornings a week. It saves the trouble of taking the bottles to the store. The house has running water, but it’s not purified. We have to be careful not to drink it or even use it for brushing our teeth. I keep a small bottle of purified water in the bathroom during my visit.
You can’t be careful everywhere, and on a trip to see the Mayan ruins in Copan, Honduras, some of us come down with horrible gastrointestinal distress. I’ll spare you the details (worst diarrhea of my life!), but it was touch and go on the drive home. Michael and Anita knew the roads and the rest stops, and thankfully, my husband is an Eagle Scout, prepared with supplies at all times, including a roll of toilet paper.
At home, we take pure water for granted. But civilization has long been plagued, literally, with contaminated water. Cholera is one disease spread by water fouled by bacteria. People would often drink alcoholic beverages, rather than water, because they were less likely to get sick. Steven Johnson writes about a cholera epidemic in “The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World.”
In Copan, we visited Flavia Cueva, who owns the Hacienda San Lucas. Anita, who is with the U.S. State Department, had met with Flavia before on an official visit. Local people and members of the International Rotary were working to improve the water quality. International Rotary is providing water distribution and health education to six remote villages in the area.
My water district at home, WaterOne, sends out an annual water quality report, summarizing what’s in the water and provides lots of facts, which are also available on the website. WaterOne was one of seven utilities worldwide selected as a finalist for a global water award for its Wolcott Treatment Plant. We’re very lucky we don’t need to buy bottled water, regularly, although there is a run on bottled water now because of the boil order.
Here’s a copy of the story in the Kansas City Star about our boil order: