I've been back for 2 days now, still trying to get back to normal after the trip and readjust to being in the States. Some things impress me more than others - the 2 hours of traffic we sat in coming back from the airport was not exactly a highlight. Hello again Bay Area. However others, such as clean tap water, strike me as downright revolutionary. Nothing like being in a developing country where the water supply is rife with exotic bacteria and parasites to make you appreciate a well-maintained water system. We drank a bunch of 20 gallon jugs of water in Kathmandu (a pain in the neck to haul back to the residence) and purified scores more. But O, my United States of America, how you have managed to overcome these inferior forms of water consumption with water treatment plants! Here we can guarantee the safety of our water.
But why am I saying all this? Because when I walk into the kitchen and fill up a glass of water from the tap, after two months and a nasty bacterial infection in Kathmandu, I feel like a god. It's not that the water here tastes better (I will attest to the fact that well-water and tap water in some developing countries tastes just fine) but that I'm not afraid it will make me sick. Of course, villagers don't normally fear their water any more than we do in the United States - often they are happy simply to have a water source to begin with. However, whether or not they realize it, there are a host of health problems they get from their water. In Mali we used a couple of jerry cans filled up at the village pump that we treated with an iodine-based water purification solution. In the field in Nepal we stuck to purifying 1 liter nalgene bottles with micropur (chlorine dioxide) tablets. The taste was much better than in Mali, but still not what I would consider pleasant. In both locations, many people still didn't understand that their water wasn't pure, and we got a lot of strange looks from the villagers. It makes sense if you think about it - a village survives for hundreds of years on the same water source. They can't survive without the water and have never had a way to purify. Disease is a natural part of their lives. What are these toubabs (white people) doing?
Nevertheless, sometimes villagers do fear their water. In a village with a completed buildOn school I asked the villagers what their new goals were, and the school principal said clean water. A government specialist had come to test their water and declared it unhealthy to drink. This is definitely a step in the right direction. The costs of diverting cleaner water from a nearby river, however, were prohibitive, to say the least. The village is currently looking to NGOs for funding.
My point is that safe tap water is one of the great gifts we have in developed countries (and sometimes even here not all citizens have access to it). So next time you turn on the tap, don't take it for granted! And maybe consider making a small donation to these guys.