At Maryhouse Catholic Worker, in New York City, word arrived, on a hot August day that, due to street construction, the water would be cut off for four hours the following day. The Catholic Worker community serves scores of guests each day, and the water shortage would have to be dealt with practically. Catholic Workers are legend for being practical in their approach toward problem solving, and in this matter a decision was quickly made: fill the bathtubs on each floor with water, post a sign that none of the toilets could be used, and quickly make one hundred or so egg salad sandwiches which could be served to guests at the door since it wouldn’t be practical to invite people indoors when there wouldn’t be any running water. How could they wash the dishes? What about the women who were accustomed to coming in and taking a shower? And how could you close off the toilets to the usual flow of guests?
I smiled to myself, remembering an invitation I had just received to experiment with using only 6.3 gallons of water, per person, over the course of an entire day. The experiment would be nearly impossible for most U.S. people to fulfill. The invitation came from the Middle East Children’s Alliance, who are coordinating the 2012 Thirsting for Justice Summer Challenge, in the US, which calls on supporters worldwide to live on 6.3 gallons in one day, in solidarity with the average allotment of water available to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. A quick look at a chart supplied by the campaign website showed that just by flushing the toilet, washing the dishes and taking a shower an average North American consumer of water would use up far more than the allotted 6.3 gallons! However, I was so jet lagged after having just returned from Afghanistan that I knew I would barely leave my room at Maryhouse Catholic Worker, --no problem foregoing a shower and no need to be troubled over using too much water to wash dishes and, well, if the toilets were closed, there must be another way to “make do.”
Truthfully, I’ve learned plenty about “making do” in Afghanistan where people are familiar with water shortages, especially during harsh winters when the pipes freeze and, if the electricity is “off,” and wells are dependent on electricity, people face several days in a row with no water.
But once I’m back in the U.S., my usual levels of consumption kick back into full gear. I might remember to use less water for washing dishes, but I would never fill and haul large plastic basins, in advance of doing dishes, because of lacking tap water. I might take a shower as quickly as possible, but I wouldn’t do so by dipping one small bowl of water into a larger bowl and pouring that overhead. As for whether or not I’m over consumptive if I boil water to make myself a cup of tea or instant coffee…well, the question never occurs to me.
For Gazans, practicalities related to water consumption constantly nag people who never will know of the luxuries taken for granted by people who presume upon endless supplies of water. A particular irony, in Gaza and the surrounding region, is that there actually is enough water available for all…or there could be, if the available reserves of water were shared equitably.
And so my friends at MECA and the Thirsting for Justice Campaign have invited us all to become more sensitive to the plight of Gazans and Palestinians throughout the West Bank, as they try to believe that we are all part of one another, that we all have the same blood and water running through our veins while experience tells them that they are rendered less eligible, less deserving, less equal when it comes to their basic human right to clean water. The Israeli consumption of water to fill swimming pools, power nuclear reactors and match western levels of consumption forbids life-giving availability of water for Gazans and people in the West Bank.
My ideal day for participating in the experiment has come and gone and now I must sign up for another day when my usual patterns of consumption are in full swing. I feel humbled, troubled.
Please visit MECA’s website and join me in evaluating myself, on a normal day, in relation to people in Gaza and the West Bank, people who mean us no harm but whose lives are affected every day by the warmaking and war profiteering practices of the Israeli government, an occupying government that relies, every day, on U.S. governmental support. Let’s look forward to the withering of any support for war and a time when our tolerance for imperial control over subjugated people will dry up, becoming as bereft of sustenance as, say, the Jordan River is bereft of water….another image for another day of considering practical resistance to water wars.