What is life like in Kenya? Well, yesterday, I filled two pitchers with water in just over an hour. Mind you, I didn’t have to walk for miles to get the water like so many people here, but from the time I decided to fill the pitchers to the time they were filled, the big hand on the clock made a full revolution. Here’s my version of the events (and there’s no one here to refute me).
I wanted to have some cold drinking water available without having to add ice, so I decided to fill a couple of pitchers with water and put them in the refrigerator. But before I could do that, I needed to see if we had enough filtered water to fill the pitchers. We didn’t. No problem, we filter our water using a system of two buckets with a filtering system between them. I just had to fill the top bucket from the spigot outside, then wait for the water to filter into the lower bucket.
I took the top bucket down from it’s perch, went to the back door, realized the door was locked, grabbed the keys, unlocked the door, unlocked the accompanying gate, then went around the corner to fill the bucket. Then, I came back inside, placed the newly-filled bucket back on the counter, and opened the valve on the filter. And nothing happened…or at least, what was supposed to happen didn’t. There were a few drips from the end of the filter, but not the stream of water I was expecting. OK, the filter needed to be cleaned. Again, not a problem. I disassembled the filter, grabbed the syringe used to flush it, sucked up some clean water, and pressed it backwards through the filter to clean out all the collected gunk that the filter was catching. Then I reassembled the filter, opened the valve, and a nice stream of water began to flow. Sweet! Now I just needed to wait for the water to filter so I could fill the pitchers…except the pitchers were dirty.
The two pitchers I had my eye on were new plastic pitchers we had just purchased at the local supermarket, and like most things here, they had a layer of dust on them (even new items sealed in plastic typically have the ubiquitous layer of fine Nakuru dust). So, while the water was filtering, I needed to wash the pitchers. Easy enough – two birds, one time-oriented stone. Of course, I couldn’t simply rinse the pitchers under the tap. I needed to boil water and wash them properly (because washing dirty pitchers with dirty water doesn’t really do the trick.) So, I put some water into our handy-dandy electric kettle (my favorite of our new kitchen appliances), pressed the button, and waited for the water to boil.
After a few minutes, the piping hot, melt-the-skin-off-your-hand water was ready. I carefully poured it into the basin and began to wash the pitchers. Then, I realized there were other dirty dishes in the sink, so, rather than wasting the hot water, I decided to wash the rest of those dishes as well. I washed, rinsed in the hot water, and placed all the dishes on the drying rack, including my two pitchers.
By now, the water in the buckets had finished filtering. I lifted the bucket of clean water onto the counter, put the lid on it, then placed the “dirty water” bucket on top in it’s proper storage place. I was now ready to fill my pitchers, which I did quite expeditiously, and placed them in the refrigerator.
Stop the timer. An hour and five minutes.
Back in the states, I used to press a button and get cold water straight from the refrigerator door. It’s a little different here.
Many talk about the pace of life in Kenya – how it’s slower than in the west. And while that’s true, it would be a grave mistake to equate “slower” with “less busy.” In fact, even though we are living a fully middle-class life here (with refrigerators, water filters, electricity, and indoor plumbing), lack of some of those western conveniences like clean water, dishwashers, clothes dryers, and the like, cause those “slow” minutes to be filled with a bevy of tasks. It is, in a way, a busy kind of slow. One that is both taxing and refreshing, both laborious and somewhat therapeutic. Manually doing things with my hands, rather than relying on some machine, can actually be life-giving. It can also take a while…like that time it took me over an hour to fill two pitchers with water…