The language learning pictures of the day were about washing dishes. I learned the Kiswahili words for soak, scrub, scrape, rinse. Then, as usual, Lucy made me a recording of the days' lesson. Her recordings always keep me highly entertained, which is helpful since I listen to each one about a dozen times.
First, she made me laugh when she said (roughly translated): "Foreigners always scrape their frying plans with only a plastic tool. Because they are afraid of scratching their special pans."
Yep. She's got that right.
She also said, "Americans rinse their dishes ovyo--carelessly--because water is cheap in America. And they don't have to carry it on their heads."
Ouch. Unfortunately, she's right about that one as well. As I listened to this recording over and over, pushing the new words into my brain, I also thought about my home state.
I'm originally from California, which is facing a water crisis of epic proportions. In fact, Lucy told me that she heard about the California drought recently on Swahili radio. That's pretty crazy! I know that Californians are upset about letting their lawns die and their cars stay dirty and their toilets stay yellow. I get that--I would be upset too.
But here's a little perspective from my friend Lucy.
Lucy lives in a household of 6. They are probably considered almost middle class for this country, because they own their own house and both she and her husband have dependable jobs.
Their house has no plumbing, along with most of the households in this city of 5 million. A neighbor, about half a block away, has a outdoor spigot. This is Lucy's water source.
Every day, Lucy buys 25 gallons of water from this neighbor. Every day, she fills buckets and carries them back to her house on her head. This much water costs about 15% of Lucy's take home pay.
Twenty-five gallons of water is what this family of six uses every day--for drinking, cooking, washing bodies, washing dishes, washing clothes. And that's on the good days. On the days when money is tight, it's only fifteen gallons.
And you know what? Lucy considers herself blessed, because she only has to walk half a block to get water, instead of the miles that many women in Tanzania have to walk.
Just in case you're starting to feel way too judged, let me assure you that even though I write from the same city as Lucy, I'm much more in the category of Californians. We do have indoor plumbing, and we probably use 10 times more water a day than Lucy's family, yet our water bill is only about 1% of our take home pay.
The average American person uses 100 gallons of water a day--400 gallons per family of four. Every day. In California, residents are being asked to cut that by 25%. I know it won't be easy--it wouldn't be for me, either. As an American, I am used to using water ovyo--carelessly.
Living in Africa has taught me to appreciate things I used to take such advantage of: paved roads, electricity, libraries, Cheerios...and water. Maybe this water crisis will do the same for Californians.