Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I normally have at least two Thanksgiving meals each year: one with my mother’s family, and one with my father’s family. I love getting together with my family — whichever family — and enjoying a feast of a day. Thanksgiving with my father’s family is particularly appealing, as the meal tends to span four or five courses, beginning at 2 or 3pm, and ending with coffee and/or liquor at 9pm. That’s an Italian-American dinner for you.
The Water “Crisis”
A somewhat remarkable thing occurred on Thanksgiving Day, as my family was preparing to host a dinner for 10 at my mother’s house. In the afternoon, as we were munching on antipasto (adopted from my father’s Italian-American side), the water stopped running. None of the faucets worked, and there were no leaks to be found in any of the pipes or from the main line outside the house. No one panicked, although we did still have peas to boil, and of course water to provide at the table.
Within minutes, my step-dad had spoken to the neighbors and called the county office, and found out that a water main had burst a few streets down. At least half of our neighborhood was without running water. I walked to the corner store down the street and picked up two gallons of water. The peas were boiled, the dog’s water bowl was filled, and we had plenty left over for tea and coffee with a nice spread of desserts after dinner.
After considering the fantastical (hopefully) possibility that we were facing the makings of a post-apocalyptic situation, or some sort of disaster, natural or otherwise, I realized how lucky we really were.
Yes, we were without running water for a grand total of six hours. Yes, this delay may have interfered with some families’ Thanksgiving preparations. Maybe they had to settle for cubed home fries in the oven instead of potatoes boiled and mashed. This is not to disparage the troubles families face in such situations. But think about how fortunate we were once we realized that our water was not running:
1. We live in a high-population, suburban area where we could call our county utilities management office on a national holiday. Within minutes of our faucets going dry, the county office was already aware of the issue, and informed us that a team had been sent to fix the problem.
2. I live in an area that has a well-established infrastructure to deal with utilities problems on a holiday, within minutes, not to mention the people who were available to answer the phones and give us an accurate assessment of the situation. (Do I need to say it again? ON A HOLIDAY).
3. There was a place within 1,000 feet of my house where I could purchase fresh, bottled water for $4.24, without fear of rioting or getting trampled. (Unlike the local mall).
4. We had a bottle of hand sanitizer in the house to use to clean our hands.
3. The initial problem with the water main was fixed within a few hours, while we were enjoying dinner.
4. Even after the water stopped for a second time, the county had it running again in less than 3 hours.
The point is, there are people in this world who do not have running water, let alone access to an efficient civil infrastructure. In fact, according to The Water Project, there are currently 783 million people in the world who do not have direct access to clean and safe water (1).
Here’s some more perspective: 783 million people is more than one-tenth of the entire world population (1), more than twice the population of the United States (323.6 million), and more than the population of Europe (742.4 million) (2).
I’m not going to argue that our problems are less important because we’re luckier, or more privileged, or that people in the US don’t have a right to complain. To me, that’s a useless, tired argument. The US (and every other country) certainly experiences legitimate crises.
But I am definitely grateful that I live in an area where a broken water main can be shrugged off as a slight and entirely temporary inconvenience.
(1) The Water Project, http://thewaterproject.org/water_stats
(2) GeoHive, http://www.geohive.com/