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please conserve water

This morning I paged through pictures in a recent National Geographic issue devoted to water and the world’s myriad ways of using and thinking of water.  One picture made me pause.  A dark-skinned woman bared her teeth in a silent groan, straining to lift a bucket of water above her head and pass it to the bony hand that reached down to take it from her.  She was inside a well, the caption explained, with eight other women clinging to the makeshift ladder below her, passing buckets up in a vertical chain.  This is their daily chore: fetching water for their families and livestock.

I brought it out into the living room and showed it to Chris.  “This is why I get so feisty about the water being left running.”  He nodded.

“I know.”  Then he said, “You know it’s not related, right, it’s not like the amount of water we use here affects how much they get there.”

“Of course.  But it’s just…I don’t know, it seems…well…” The word I was searching for but didn’t want to use was “arrogant”.

“It seems rude,” Chris supplied.


I realize it’s in our culture to take things like running water and electricity for granted.  I often turn on the shower and leave the room for a few minutes while I wait for it to heat up.  Chris is right; the problem of unequal distribution of water often has geographic causes rather than social.  It’s not Portland’s fault that it gets 100 inches of rain a year.  But it does seem rude to leave faucets running without a brief thought of appreciation for the struggle that we in the first world are spared by the wonders of modernization.  Pictures like these move me powerfully, because this is what I want my own writing to do: to plant images in people’s minds that they can’t shake, that grow roots and cause small changes in habits and in thinking.

Later this morning I ventured into the mall.  I’m overwhelmed every time I have to shop there.  Perfume drips from the air vents, the florescent lights shine on the polished edges of glass storefronts and spear the air with sparkling knives of light.  Music fills the air until it’s tight and swollen.  Headless mannequins wearing carefully draped scarves and angular skinny jeans form a fashionable parade as I try to walk quickly to the sports store that’s my destination.  When I dressed this morning, I put on the same Carhartts and brown merino shirt I wore yesterday, and thought I looked cute, in an outdoorsy kind of way.  The pants and shirt are new and mostly clean, and with the addition of my ski jacket, I felt like I was as trendy as a ski bum gets.  Silly Susan.  At the mall, girls with spiked heels clicked quickly past me, long jackets belted stylishly around leggings and tight sweaters.  Copper-colored bangles, perfectly applied makeup, well-styled hair.  I always forget how far out of the norm I live.  My life is quite sheltered, despite my world travels.  I work and play with ski bums, hippies, and travelers: like-minded people.  Who already read National Geographic and have traveled outside of North America.  When I discuss my ideas of changing people’s perspectives with my writing, they nod and share their own ideas.  I find myself returning to this issue again and again.  I have such high hopes, such idealistic visions, but then I visit the mall, or hitch a ride with someone who sees the world differently than I do, and I realize that I have my work cut out for me.  I realize how many people there are who aren’t interested in change.  Who wouldn’t be interested in reading what I write, or if they did, wouldn’t be moved.  I guess it won’t stop me, though.  I’ll keep putting it out there, keep doing my thing, for myself, if no one else.  And I’ll encourage you all, dear readers, to be mindful.  Enjoy those hot showers, but don’t forget to say thanks.

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