The water is off. I envy the Pulse volunteers living hours away from anything remotely resembling a city.
These two seemingly unrelated thoughts have a common thread. Living in a city like Kumasi, I am lulled into something approaching a sense of normalcy. We have running water. Electric power allows us to use our laptops and to obtain drinking water from the water cooler our house owner has so graciously provided to us. I can take a taxi into the city center to purchase almost anything I might need and many of the things I want.
But the flip side is what happens things aren’t “normal”. The power outages have not been all that difficult for me, since it’s something that happens from time to time in the US. While it’s hot here, the cool evenings means that losing the A/C overnight doesn’t keep me from sleeping, just from sleeping as well as I could. When Liz and I headed to the house the night before she left to return to NYC, we planned to work with the surveys that the teachers filled out from the workshop. Arriving home to find the power off, we sat in the fading light of the sun in my room and read the surveys. When the twilight made it impossible for us to continue reading without artificial light, I handed Liz a flashlight and put on my headlamp and we kept working.
The water being out is whole different kettle of fish. This afternoon I returned to the house to find that the water was not running. I vainly hoped that perhaps a plumber was working on getting the new washing machine installed and had needed to turn off the water for his work. I could feel a headache coming on from sleeping poorly last night and laid down for a short nap. Upon awakening in a puddle of drool on my pillow, my first thought was of how wonderful a shower would feel, even with the low water pressure we often have. I stumbled into the bathroom to find that the water was still out. I felt like a kid being told that Santa Claus is taking a year off and there are no presents this year.
Returning to the thought that started this post….the volunteers living in remote villages have no reason to expect modern conveniences, like constant electricity and running water. They know they will spend much of their free time working to secure the basic necessities. They are not likely to have any expectations regarding basic infrastructure. In contrast, the mostly reliable nature of necessities here in Kumasi makes their absence all the more poignant and painful.
The situation in Kumasi is not all that different from that of the rapidly growing list of sprawling emerging-market megacities across Africa and Asia and South America. Tens and hundreds of millions of people are moving to these cities each year, stretching infrastructure to the breaking point, all for the smallest chance at the opportunities we take for granted in the US. Once I return home, I hope to remember this experience the next time a storm knocks out our power or a wreck causes my drive home to take longer than it should.