“Turn it off when you brush – it’s a five gallon rush – turn it off, off, off, off, off…ba dum ba dum ba dum…”
The words came rolling out of the fifth-grade recesses of my brain, matching the rhythm of my footsteps. I hauled the water and hummed the tune, making my way back over the kilometer of icy road to pour another bucket into the tank in our sauna. It would take four more trips before it would be full enough to light the bath. These words had stuck with me some twenty years, yet it wasn’t until now that they held any weight. One quickly learns the value of a gallon when every drop must be hauled by hand.
We were lucky. At least the water was flowing today. In other parts of the country water is often so scarce that people actually wash their hands with vodka – a testament to both the lack of clean water and the copious amounts of alcohol that line the shelves in every dukon.
Almost every household chore begins this way, with a trot down to the nearest working pump, a 40 liter container and wheelbarrow in tow. Often in winter there is a line. Usually it is the grade-school-aged boys that are sent on this task and so I would find myself, a tall shoot waiting my turn among the donkey pulled carts and two or three boys wrestling on the ground over who would get to go next. The rate of flow was enough to turn any man into a philosopher – or maybe just turn him mad.
Patience is a virtue
And it takes intelligent men to control it, pushing it around in little spade-deep canals in half-acre fields, scribbling down the household gardens to receive water in daily schedules, pouring tea kettles down the pumps to break the sheet of ice that had formed the night before. Water is managed like money, stored like a second car, doled out like a paycheck and portioned out to the last drop. A song may be stuck in your head for twenty years, but some things you just have to see before it sticks.