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Water! – Chapter 8

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Fri, Aug 24, 2012

by Oswald Ferreira
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We all know that water is essential for life. Today, with most homes having running water, it is taken for granted. However, there was a time when getting water home was quite a chore.{{more}}

My first memory of water was the village standpipe where we all had to line up and wait our turn to fill our galvanized buckets and carry them home on our heads. We usually passed the time waiting by scrubbing our buckets with ashes and arrowroot bitty until they shone. Sometimes the standpipe would be dry all day, in which case we had to go to the river or to the springs in the hills, or wait until late at night when the standpipe flowed and make the trips back and forth with our friends, our way lighted by the moon or by a flambeau. During the rainy season, we often collected the rain water for use; so, every yard had a barrel or container of sorts to collect the run off water from the roof.

In those days, it was a blessing to live near a river or stream. With an arrowroot mill in our village, we had water for several months, because a canal brought water to the mill; so, while the arrowroot crop was in harvest and for some months thereafter, the canal flowed and was a ready source of water in the village. I do recall several “bucket brigades” when a thatch roof kitchen would go up in flames; the men would line the way from the canal to the burning kitchen and everyone would come running with a bucket which they filled and passed down the line, so that the water could be poured on the flames. We never saved a kitchen, but we often saved the house from destruction.

Without running water in the home, life was different. We did not have indoor bathrooms; instead, all homes had an outhouse or latrine; we had to wash in the backyard with a bucket, or we went to the river for a swim. Our drinking water was kept in a clay “goblet” that kept the water surprisingly cool.

Doing the laundry was also affected by the supply of water. So, Monday was “washing day”, when all the village ladies would take the soiled clothes to the river and they would do the washing. Every family had a particular spot and that spot was respected by everyone. So, when a child was sent to the river to take lunch for their mother or aunt or sister, the child knew exactly where to go. These were also the days when not much was “wash and wear”, so Monday “washing day” was followed by starching on Tuesday. The ladies would boil arrowroot starch, add it to the water and dip the clothes, wring them by hand and hang them to dry. The whites would be treated to starch and blue. The result was a bundle of stiff clothes that had to be sprinkled with water to be ironed later in the week.

Then, as the water system was upgraded, our stand pipes became more reliable and finally we were allowed to have water in our yards and homes. That changed the whole social structure of the village. Our homes could now have bathrooms. Gone was the washing of laundry at the river and with it, the socializing. We could have baths at home, so gradually, gone were the swimming parties at the river. We could get water directly from the tap, so the “goblet” like the stand-pipe became obsolete. Alas, every time we embraced progress, it took away a piece of our social structure and we had to create new norms. I am sure we would all prefer to turn on a tap, rather than bring several buckets of water on our heads from a distant stream.

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