16 August 2009

What's all this about hot water?

About 25 years ago, I had occasion to stay in a small farming village of about 50 families in Greece for about 3 weeks. It was a model of integrated sustainability and local ingenuity that, over time, had evolved systems to make the most of what they had locally. It was very interesting and they had developed many integrated practices, but what I want to discuss today is water.

There was for generations three villages that all shared a common spring. For generations, folk had hauled their water in vessels from the spring back to their homes. They had constructed underground catchment basins to collect what little rain water came their way. And sewage was dealt with in a very crude manner. Then, in the mid seventies after the fall of the military junta, someone in the government got the idea that these three towns needed running water. So they drilled three wells, installed a cistern above the towns and gravity fed water to the homes. They also installed a few primitive septic facilities.

The day I arrived in the summer of 1983, I noticed that the home I was to stay in had a kitchen sink, but when I tried it nothing came out. I asked at the Taverna in town about it and was told the story of the water development project. I was also told that the town was so poor that they could only afford to turn the pump on once every 5 days or so to fill the cistern. So one day, voila, water. The water ran for about 2 1/2 - 3 days until the cistern was emptied and then you waited. What became clear to me was how thankful these folk were that they had the chance to have water, even intermittently. Another very interesting thing was that alot of the homes had a black 55 gallon barrel on their roof. This acted as their solar batch heater. Boy did I hear about the wonders of taking a hot shower at the Taverna over Ouzo and cards. These folk were living the high life, as compared to their predecessors.

It is interesting to me that the western world expects hot water with the turn of a knob and electricity with the turn of a switch. That we have lost the ability to appreciate what we have or where it comes from.

About 15 years ago, living in the mountains of southwest Virginia, after the birth of my second son, we lost power for a week after the second "fifty year" ice storm in two weeks. (good subject for a future post). With no power, a wife who had just given birth, a 6 year old, a new born, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law all at our home, i was very busy cutting wood and hauling water. When after 7 days I heard the sound of a truck coming, I could only hope it was the electric line crew to fix the power lines. Sure enough it was! I rushed out to greet them, give them some hot tea and thank them for their hard work! What they leader of the crew told me has stuck with me since that day. He said, "You know you folks up here are sure different then the folks we service in Atlanta (they had been brought up to help restore power because of the widespread outages). Every drive we go down folks are nice and very happy to see us, in Atlanta if they are 3 hours without power they cuss us when we come!". WOW. That was an eye opener!

We all need to imagine life without and appreciate life with. It is all a matter of relative perspective.

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