Friday, 10 December 2010

Five Festive Fridays - Water

Here is the second in my series of Festive Fridays, when I take a contemporary twist on a major Advent or Christmas theme in the church.

Today is the turn of John the Baptist, Jesus' cousin, who was born to Zachariah and Elizabeth. Of course, being sane and human, Zach didn't believe the angel who told him that his barren wife would conceive. He suffered 9 months of being struck dumb for that disbelief, and I've always felt rather sorry for him in the circumstances.

Still, John's job was to make way for Jesus. And he is known as 'the Baptist' for being the one who baptised Jesus in the River Jordan when adult. So today I thought I'd look at the value of water.

There haven't been many periods in my life when I have not had access to water. Here in the UK we have an excellent water system so that we have fresh, drinkable water piped to virtually every house in the land. Really we don't appreciate just how valuable that is.

In Zambia we also had constant water supply. Most of Zambia's electricity is powered by hydroelectric dams - the most famous being Kariba Dam, but there is also one at the Victoria Falls and several in the North and West of the country. Despite a seasonality that has no rain at all April - October, then a rainy season November - March, there is enough water in the River Zambezi to power the country most of the time.

There is also enough water, pumped from miles away to the capital city Lusaka. Being wary foreigners, we filtered all our water, but it was still of good quality. I recognised that I had to stop worrying when I saw my children drink the bathwater - as any toddler will - and survive.

We only ever had one serious problem with water. My understanding was that they were servicing one of the pumps, which meant that the water pressure in our area of Lusaka dropped for a couple of months. Over the course of a couple of weeks one August it dropped so that we only had water flowing from the taps at about 6am, then maybe a little late at night. Having our own private borehole would have solved this problem, but we didn't.

But humans are resourceful, particularly when it comes to survival. It meant an earlier start, filling as many large bottles with water as we could. It meant doing all the washing up at once. It meant going to the toilet in succession, and then flushing (well, pouring a bucket of water down) after the last visit. It meant not watering the garden. It meant bucket baths and cold washes. It meant thinking about our water usage: how much and when.

It was a salutary lesson.

Many in our world walk for miles each day to get water. What they collect is often not clean - certainly not as clean as we in the wealthy West would deem acceptable to drink. And they survive on the few litres that they are able to carry for all their food, drink, cooking, cleaning and washing needs. Organisations such as Water Aid do marvellous work to get water pumps into rural villages, clean sanitation and toilet facilities. Have a look at this page to see what they are doing in Zambia, in particular.

Of course, water can also be destructive. This year, we should think in particular of Haiti: following on from the devastating earthquake it is now suffering from a cholera epidemic, a water-borne disease that can quickly kill. They remain under threat throughout the 'hurricane season', when the makeshift tents and houses could be blown or washed away. Water: that life-giving source, also the bearer of disease and destruction.

Water is necessary for life. This Christmas, let's take a little time to be grateful for a commodity that we often take for granted, but which many people struggle to obtain on a daily basis.

And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmas time. 
The greatest gift they'll get this year is life. 

Where nothing ever grows 
No rain or rivers flow 

Do they know it's Christmas time at all? 


Mark said...

My relationship with water is bound up with rivers and the sea. I have kayaked some of the worlds greatest rivers and the sea is a constant presence in my life. Both have given me life in the broadest sense, yet both have taken friends too.

I don't share your faith but I do echo the sentiment; water is everywhere around us and we should give thanks for that.

Catharine Withenay said...

Thanks, Mark. I simply think it is a commodity that we in the West take for granted when we switch on a tap. It is also utterly spellbinding when watching the sea or waterfalls or hearing streams trickling by. Thanks for helping me think of that too.

Anonymous said...

I love this post, really nice to read something completely different, that made be think, and be grateful.
Good to have found you.

Catharine Withenay said...

Thank you for calling by: it is always lovely to have guests! Please, sit down and have a cup of tea, and enjoy!!

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