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We’re out of water.

Some of you are thinking, “Well, duh, you’re in the Sahara. You know, desert?” But I live in the capital city, and we’re on city water. The water comes from groundwater supplies deep underground, centuries old, pure at the source but not so pure by the time it’s come through the local pipes, which while not perhaps centuries old, still contain the dust and contamination and creepy-crawlies of the decades.

Running out of water is part of life here. Sometimes there just isn’t enough for everyone, so parts of the city don’t get water. In our old house, we were once without city water for 7 months. We had to buy our water by truck. The truck would come and fill up our reservoir, under the garage. In the poorer parts of town, where families share compounds with other families and don’t have their own reservoirs, you can have your water brought by donkey cart, and you fill up a big container called a bidon.

Donn had told me I needed to prime the suppressor, which is this big red ball-shaped thing that I guess works like a pump. It gets the water from the cistern into the house, so that when the electricity is out, we don’t have water either. I went out and looked at it, while I was talking to a nearby friend on the phone. She volunteered her husband to come by and prime the suppressor for me. (YAAY! Helpless Woman Wins Again and doesn’t have to do nasty jobs like changing flat tire or changing heavy and dangerous gas bottle in kitchen.)

Todd showed up after dinner. We went out to the garage and lugged the cement lid off the reservoir. He shone a flashlight into the depths, pointing out the 2 inches of water in the corners, the uneven middle already drying out. “You guys are out of water!” he announced. “Yep!” I commented morosely.

In addition to our lack of water, he pointed out a large root protruding through the wall of the reservoir. Apparently it was blocking the pipe to the suppressor, which wasn’t helping the situation. Next thing I knew he was taking off his sandals, rolling up his pant legs, and lowering himself into the depths. “Got a bucket?” came his muffled voice.

I went into the house and announced, “Mr. Todd is in our reservoir!” All 3 kids rushed out in excitement. I came back out with a bucket and cup to collect water with, and he soon had the root out.

Then came time to prime the suppressor. No one could get the big bolt to turn, even with WD-40. So off came the big red ball. Murky brown water, from the taps to the house, gurgled up. Todd needed more. He wanted to lower Abel into the cistern, and at first Abel was willing, but as he looked in that dark black hole he lost his nerve. “What if there’s rats?” So Ilsa, who won’t go upstairs alone after dark ever, no matter the enticements from me or the threats or taunts from her brothers, volunteered. She held up her arms and Todd lowered her down. No sooner was she down there, reporting, “This is fun! Cool! Ooh, what’s that?” then Abel wanted to go down too. Soon I was looking at their two little faces peering up at me through the black square hole. How I wish I had a camera! It was deep enough for them to stand comfortably and peer around. Elliot held the flashlight, and for once didn’t tease them by turning it off.

They scooped water into the bucket which was placed under the pipe, and watched the level in the bucket when Todd turned on the suppressor to see if it was working properly. They splashed around, explored corners, picked up rocks. Soon it was time to be pulled up, with the last bucket of water so that I could do tonight’s dishes.

We still have no water, and I had to go buy bottled water for teeth-brushing and drinks. But at least now, when it comes (Please God let it be tonight!!), the suppressor is ready.

Edited to Add:  We DID get some water in last night! With great thankfulness we flushed toilets and took showers this morning. I’m holding off on the laundry though, and hoping to get more water soon. Alhumdu’dillah! as they say round here. (Means Praise God! in Arabic)

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I just had one of those “big” birthdays that end in 0 and are always a bit shocking to the unprepared. Elliot announced that entering a new decade should always be cool, and started reeling off all the “big” birthdays I have to look forward to. Lovely.

Birthdays aren’t always so fun with your spouse far away, but this one was quite nice. To start with, my friend Debbie threw me a surprise party on Friday morning. I walked into her house and found about 10 or so of my friends there, gathered round a big black sign. These women are my colleagues at Oasis, or do community health, or work at the embassy. All speak English, but there were Swiss, Dutch, Norwegian, Canadian, English and American women there. I found out later Debbie’s husband had initially put up my age in Roman numerals, but the women made him take it down as it seemed too cruel. (Kudos if you can figure out why) Debbie, incredibly, shared her Starbucks coffee (I wouldn’t have been so generous) and we had coffee cake and juice as well. Plus, I got presents! 🙂 I love presents, which I realize makes me unique, like my weird aversion to pain and how I hate war, being cheated, eye injuries and snakes.

(Total aside: Had to explain to Elliot the difference between “unique” and “eunuch” this week. LOL)

They sang Happy Birthday to me, and then the Norwegian woman sang me the Norwegian version, which is much better than ours, longer and more interesting and with actual motions. It includes a little dance and turn around. I made her translate it for me, but I forget it already. Early-onset Alzheimer’s, no doubt.

Isn’t aging fantastic?

Saturday was my actual birthday. The kids fought the night before over who got to do what. It was sweet, sort of, but fighting? Yeah. Elliot won, as the only one allowed near matches unsupervised. But everybody helped.

Ilsa woke up at 7:30 and chirped, “Everybody get up! Let’s go make Mom breakfast!” I growled, “Not if you want her to have a happy birthday,” and made everybody go back to sleep till 9. Birthday Dictator. I was served at 10—eggs with perfect, unbroken yolks, bacon, fried tomatoes, toast, butter and jam, apple slices, yogurt, cereal bar, juice and coffee. Who could eat it all? It was all really good and I was very impressed with my little cooks.

Then they forced our houseguest to go back to bed so they could make her breakfast in bed. Then Elliot made the twins breakfast. Finally, he made himself breakfast.

The kitchen wasn’t too bad. The twins wrote me the sweetest letters in the entire world, bar none. It was all very nice.

The electricity did go out about 9:30 p.m., just as we were preparing to eat my special dessert (made with hoarded-for-my-birthday dried fruit from Trader Joe’s! YUM!). But it wasn’t so bad this time. We went upstairs and stumbled around on the roof, looking to see the extent of the outage. There was a lovely northern breeze. The electricity came back on about 11:30, just as we were dragging all the matlas out onto the balcony.

And yes, I have a houseguest. Her name is Michelle. She used to live here and now she’s back, and staying with me while looking for her own place. This is great as it’s so well understood in this culture, where a woman temporarily husbandless would stay with family or have an unmarried sister or friend to stay. Plus I now, once again, have someone I can call on their cell phone. “Michelle? Can you pick up some bread on your way home?” “Would you mind stopping by and picking up some milk?” I think these sort of phone calls are why Donn conveniently had his phone “stolen” last year.

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