Sometimes I forget that the things I use around here on a daily basis are luxuries for many people in the country; luxuries they can’t afford. Let’s start with water. First, I should mention that here in Berlín we only have running water every other day and it runs for about four or five hours. It usually starts around 4am or later and runs until 9am. During this time we fill up the pilas (cement basins) at the house and that’s the water we use until we have running water again. This is the water we use for cooking, cleaning, bathing, washing our hands, washing dishes, and washing laundry. So every time you want to use water you scoop it out of the pila with a guacal (small, plastic bowl).
Now let’s talk about hot water. In my bathroom there is a shower with a little attachment that heats water so people who visit the house can have hot showers. If you want to take a hot shower in El Salvador (in most places) you’re going to need that little attachment. When I first arrived in early February the hot water heater attached to my shower worked very well. But after that it stopped working; I only used it once. I didn’t give it much thought and started taking dump showers instead. Basically, you use a guacal to dump water on yourself to clean your body and hair. It’s cold, especially at night, but after a while I got used to it and forgot about the shower altogether.
Well, last week someone came by to put a new attachment on my shower. It’s not a huge deal not to have hot water available when it’s just us here but when delegations from the US come it’s nice for them to be able to have a hot shower. The ladies here are always thinking about the comfort of others. That’s nice of them, because if I were in charge no one who came here for a week would have a hot shower (including myself when I am here for a week with my church). I think it would do us gringos some good to have a better understanding of how a lot of people in this country live. We’re spoiled enough as it is just having clean water and an actual shower here. Plus, it’s only for a week. I seriously doubt anyone is going to die if they don’t have a hot shower for a week.
But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t excited about the new shower attachment. I love hot showers, and I took my second hot shower in over three months on Wednesday. Today is Friday which means running water so I woke up at 6am and went into the bathroom for my hot shower. I was surprised when no water came out. I tried turning on the water to my pila. Again, no water. I walked out of the bathroom and asked Cecilia if there was water in the main pila. Nope. You’ve got to be kidding me. I got up a half hour early for a special hot shower and there was no water.
I remembered reading Kathy’s blog last year when they went without water for several days and hoped this wouldn’t be the same situation. I still couldn’t believe my luck. The water has been running consistently every other day since I arrived and the one day I get up early to shower it doesn’t run. I deliberately did not shower last night because I knew today we’d have water. That figures. I decided I was clean enough and skipped the shower altogether. I got dressed and went to school as usual. I asked Cecilia to fill my pila if the water did come while I was at school.
During school I kept hoping that the water would come so we could fill the pilas. I’m not sure why I was so concerned that there wouldn’t be water today. It’s not like we were completely out of water nor would I ever have to worry about not having enough water to drink. I didn’t have much dirty laundry and I have plenty of anti-bacterial hand sanitizer if I needed to clean my hands. But regardless of all this I was still worried.
When I got home I saw that the pilas weren’t full and surmised that the water hadn’t run yet. Oh well, we’ll just have to wait until Sunday. Before I sat down to lunch I turned on the faucet just in case water started to run. And sure enough, during lunch, I heard water running in my bathroom. Yay! I declared myself a genius as we went to turn on the faucets of the other pilas in the house. It definitely felt like a weight had been lifted. What have I learned from this experience? Maybe hot showers and I just weren’t meant to be. I’m considering boycotting the shower altogether and taking dump showers from now on. We’ll see what happens.
The shower attachment that heats the water
Pila in my bathroom
My shower and pila
Main pila for washing dishes (left side) and clothes (right side)
Electricity is another one of those luxuries that I often take for granted. Here at the Pastoral House we use electricity for lights, computers, internet, the fridge, charging cell phones, and the TV (the stove runs on gas). The main thing I use is the computer and internet. They’re definitely my connection to the rest of the world and I get grumpy when there’s no electricity. From time to time the electricity goes out though I’m not sure why. It never seems to be connected to a storm or anything like that. I’ve stopped trying to figure out why because it’s a futile effort.
In the past month the power has gone out five times. Two of those times were for most of the day. I’m not sure about the months before that because I wasn’t keeping track though I remember losing power several other times since I’ve been here. When there’s no electricity during the day I can work on lesson plans for school, do some laundry, play with the birds, or go for a walk. There’s not a whole lot to do since it’s a smaller city and there are certain places I can’t go. But there’s even less to do when there’s no power and it’s nighttime. Since we rarely leave the house after dark we pretty much depend on electricity. That’s usually when I try to get caught up on emails, blogs, pictures, etc.
Some of the cantons have gotten electricity in the past year. The main thing people use in the cantons now that they have electricity is lights. It gets dark here around 6pm so if you have no lights at your house you either have to use candles or go to bed really early. Now that people have lights they can stay up later. If the family has kids in school they can do schoolwork at night. The rosary and other religious celebrations can be held. Housework can be done.
Electricity in the cantons is used for other things as well. People can have and charge cell phones at their homes. Cell phones are the main way people are able to communicate in the cantons other than walking door to door. It’s how the Pastoral Team is able to plan things for delegations from the States with people in the various cantons. If there is an accident out in the field, people can call for help. Some families also have TVs. As I’ve said before, I think a lot of the time this is a good thing. It gives people something else to do. There’s not a whole lot to do in the cantons other than work, play fútbol, and make babies.
However, there are other cantons and caseríos that don’t have electricity. They either rely on solar panels (if they’re lucky) or they go without. And even if a community is electricity-ready, it doesn’t mean that each family will have electricity. They have to be able to afford the hook-up as well as the monthly bill. And if the family doesn’t own the land they live on, they have to get permission from the owner before electricity can be installed.
We had no internet this afternoon and evening. The internet goes out from time to time for no particular reason. It’s not as bad as losing power but it still cuts down on the things I’m able to do. Today I looked at my “Things to do” list because I figured I could get some things done while the internet was out. But I realized that many of the things on the list involved using the internet so I was out of luck there. And when the internet isn’t working here for a long period of time we can’t just call Mediacom to find out what the problem is.
But at least we have access to the internet and the money needed have it at our house. There’s no internet access in the cantons here and even if there was most people probably couldn’t afford it. Plus there’d be no point in having it since most people in the cantons can’t afford a computer. So I’m going to try to be grateful for the times that we do have internet here. To read a fun story about what it’s like trying to get internet in this country check out: http://www.whatsupelsalvador.com/2011/05/all-i-wanted-was-a-pepsi/
If daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.
~Brother David Steindl-Rast, Austrian-American Author and Benedictine Monk