I wake up every morning and look out my window at the sparkling Mediterranean Ocean. Sometimes it’s azure other times it’s grey- but no matter the colour it always gives me a sense of renewal. Seeking to embody that feeling of renewal I head to the bathroom for a shower. Grabbing a towel and saying a silent prayer I turn the tap…drip…drip…driiiiippppp…then nothing. Great, another day without water.
Coming from the Western world I had experienced power and water outages a few times before-mainly as a result of a storm. Normally things would be back on in a few hours. In Gaza it is different- sometimes we go days without water and this is the way we must live. I remember the first time I woke up to no water. I was perplexed and wondered what was going on but figured it would be back on soon. I waited 12 hours and the faucet was still dry.
The system here was a bit confusing to me at first. I couldn’t understand WHY we just didn’t have any water. Let me explain how it works (or doesn’t work). Most homes in Gaza have huge plastic reservoir tanks for 2000 litres on the roof depending on the size of your family and size of your home. These tanks supply water when the municipal supply is not working. When the municipal supply and electricity are BOTH on at the same time- the tanks are refilled. A small electric motor pump engages and pushes the water up to these tanks. This is a great backup system however it is not fail safe. Sometimes it seems the stars have to align before we can have water.
If the electricity is off at the pumping station- and this happens often as there are fuel shortages and generators cannot be fueled- then there is no water.
If the electricity is on at the pumping station but off at your home-water cannot be pumped up to the tanks on the roof.
If it is not our day to have water from the municipal system- which is every 2 days only- and there is no water in the tanks on the roof because of no electricity-then there is no water.
Of course the water that does come out of the taps when it is available is undrinkable. High levels of nitrates and salt make it unfit for consumption. When I first came to Gaza my hair started to fall out and I developed a rash and itchy skin because of the contaminants. Even now if I stay in the shower too long my skin becomes irritated and forget about getting water in your eyes- they will be red and burn for days. The water even makes kitchen utensils and anything it touches rust in a few months. Our water heater has to be serviced every 3 months because the salt accumulates inside of it and breaks the heater. Clothes wear out after a few washes in the harsh water.
We also must pay to have ‘clean’ water delivered to our home for cooking purposes. 500 litres costs about 20 shekels or $6USD. Nearly everyone has a separate tank for this water and it is delivered by trucks every few days. I only use this water after boiling because I don’t completely trust its cleanliness. The trucks that patrol the neighbourhoods always play a song on their loud speaker so we know they are coming. Some play “Jingle Bells”, Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” or “It’s a Small World”.
For drinking water we purchase sealed 1.5liter bottles brought in from the West Bank that cost 2 shekels each. It is the only water I feel safe drinking. The cost probably doesn’t seem like much to you but over time it adds up.
So here I am-still waiting for the water to come on and am subsisting on the few bottles I had filled from the tap for emergencies.
Things like running water I took for granted for so many years but now I treasure every sacred drop.