water

A common question is “what do you miss most” from home. It’s a terrific question because the answer entirely depends on 1) where you are now (i.e., what is and is not available) and 2) what your biggest comforts were, so that asking my friend in Singapore (Hi, Crystal!) or my friend in Greece (Yassou, Anna!) would yield different answers. For Anna, I know it’s Mexican food.

The thing is, how many us know what are biggest comforts are? For example, is it worse if your car breaks down or if your electricity goes out? Probably depends on what you were about to do.  Do I miss guacamole more than I miss Hubway (my beloved Boston bike-share program)? Oh boy, it is hard to say. What about personal space vs. punctuality (any Mongolian PCV will understand these references); which of those two qualities do I miss more? I guess I have discovered that the more things we have, the more difficult it is to rank them in importance. Wants become needs. But take away all but the most basic needs, and clear preferences emerge.

I spent this summer with only a squat outhouse (jorlon). Even though it was the Taj Mahal of outhouses (I can say that, because I’ve been to the Taj Mahal), one might think that I must have missed a toilet most of all. This is not so, and I am not just saying it because I now have a toilet. In fact, I miss the byproduct of the squat outhouse so much—those firmer, stronger thighs and buttocks—that I’ve begun doing several squats a day. (overshare?)

People who’ve had a meal with me—who know that I delight in eating to the point where I involuntarily hum—probably think that some food item is my greatest longing. Indeed, many of my suggested care-package items are food or food-related. But no. Though I have always loved a good meal, I don’t think that I’ve spurned an average meal. This is important because I’ve cooked ALL of my meals the past month, save for a few site-mate dinners. No daily soup/salad from the cafeteria (Hi, DFCI lunch crew!), no take-out (as if!), no frozen dinners, not even ramen noodles (which we do have).

It comes to this: during the summer, the thing I missed most from home was running water. This had nothing to do with the jorlon since most everyone who had a jorlon had a gravity sink (a clever contraption wherein the water was poured into a reservoir (maybe 1-2 liters) above the basin and by pushing up on a valve underneath the tank, the water flowed down into the dirty water catch bucket under the basin) so washing hands was quite easy. But the bigger jobs (the hand-washing laundry and tumpun bathing) each became incredibly labor intensive: assuming you already had water (carried it or had it delivered), you have to carry buckets of water (one at a time) from where it’s stored, heat some of it in the electric kettle, then do the washing, dump the dirty water (into a special dirty-water pit outside), repeat all the steps to do the rinsing, then dump the dirty water again. And I like to rinse twice!

Since my permanent site has running water—the thing I had already identified as the one thing I was missing most—how could I not be happy? Well, I wasn’t unhappy but I wasn’t as happy as I would have thought in the “be careful what you wish for” sense. Have you ever washed your hands or did the dishes (even with rubber gloves) in ice-cold water? Try it. You’ll quickly agree that it is more than unpleasant. In fact, I exclusively used the red faucet in the hopes that someday hot water would magically appear. Wants becoming needs. Meanwhile, it was back to heating up the tea-kettle, but at least the time for the big chores was cut in half without all the carrying back and forth.

And now, the denouement of the running-water saga: the heat in my studio apartment was turned on over the weekend (it’s either on or off, no thermostat), just in time for the first snow in town. Wherever it originates from, it enters my apartment through 3 radiators and exposed pipes running the length of the same 3 walls. And wherever the water originates from must pass over those pipes to become tepid when the heat is on. Yes, I have tepid running water. At first I thought, “Are my hands so cold that this water feels warm?” until the heat went off and the water was ice-cold again. I’m still hoping it’s not a fluke and that when winter is in full effect I can still feel the difference. And assuming I will have tepid running water—the thing I’ve now identified as the one thing I was missing most—for as long as there is heat (maybe 6 months), you can rest assured, I’ll be pretty happy in Govi-Altai, Mongolia.

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7 Responses to water

  1. Maryse says:

    Aww the humming. :).

  2. Susan says:

    Love,
    We are sending our love. I have to agree with you when I read your blog. I think water would be the one thing that I would miss as well. Since growing up till I was about 10 years old or so my gram had an outhouse. I dont like using one now but will if I have to.

    I want to write more but have to head into work. We love you and continue to pray for your safety.

    Love Always
    Susan and Jonathan

  3. Priscilla A. Arsenault says:

    First off, loved Susan’s comments!

    Ok, guess who else hums while eating? Jim! A coworker once asked him why he hummed while he ate and Jim looked at him like had two heads and denied the accusation/question. But then he starting paying attention and realized that he did indeed hum while eating. When he told me about it, I didn’t believe him but again, after time, realized it was true. So funny, neither of us realized he did it though he’d been doing it for years.

    I’m w/A. Kathy, hearing from you Love, it’s never enough, more words, the better!

    So, looking on the bright side of 6 months of winter is you’ll get to enjoy tepid water, whoohoo! That’s definitely looking at the glass 1/2 full….. of tepid water?

  4. You’ll miss it when you’re in Singapore for a visit….we have heat to spare!

    Ironically, one of the things I delight in when visiting the US is the cold water that comes when one turns the cold tap. At its coldest, our water is tepid. So when I get actual cold water in the US, it’s a shock.

    What do I miss most–being able to see friends easily is highest on the list, or people “getting” my sense of humor (other american expats don’t count–I mean locals), and customer service (oh my god, the stone wall of “cannot” and the stick to the big binder of procedure mentality here can drive a person insane som days).

    But shallow creature comforts?
    –BBQ chips by my favorite company (they’re the most commonly requested food item for our care packages
    –Clearance Sales (SG doesn’t really do sales and never clearance sales)
    –Long hot showers (we get maybe 15 minutes of hot water)–one of the first things I do when I get back to the us is attempt to drown myself in my in-laws shower with the water on as hot as I can take it.
    –Open space–Singapore is such a small urban place that when I visit the US (or other spaces) seeing non-skyscrapers, and fields just blow my mind
    –Seasons (well, I miss Fall–I don’t particularly miss winter or spring)

    So excited you’re blogging this adventure, Love!

    –hugs from all of us-Crystal, Ravi, Elanor and Rhiannon

    • eelevol says:

      Crystal, I have remembered your blog about water temperature from so long ago all this time. It was remarkable because it was exactly the kind of thing that I wouldn’t have thought of, until I experienced it myself. It was on my mind for sure as I wrote this.

  5. Julie says:

    Love, I’ve getting a tiny taste of what you mean by the desire to have tepid running water. Our heat and hot water has been/will be turned off for half a week this week, and though we’ve only had one day without either, washing my hands (not even the dishes) in very cold (not ice-cold) water was enough to remember this post and channel my inner Love. Thinking of you, I used the tea-pot, heating water Mongolia-style for the rest of my warm-water evening activities and reminding myself that you experienced something like this times 1000 every day.

    • eelevol says:

      Oh, Julie, thanks for commenting with your experience! I love that you remembered my post 🙂 And I’m glad “heating water Mongolia-style” will only be temporary for you.

      For the record, after two snow days in my town, I DO still have tepid water, somedays it is even warmish. Fingers crossed and knocking on wood that it continues.

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