Monday, November 1, 2010

The Weight of Water

Have you ever had the opportunity to walk in someone else's shoes?  Halloween was yesterday, so lots of us have recently pretended to be someone (or something!) other than ourselves.  Most times, it's fun to put on a mask and, for a moment, to forget about worries, fears, or pressing deadlines.  Sometimes we daydream about being someone who possesses something we don't have: perhaps someone with a special skill or talent, or someone who has a coveted job or relationship.  But have you ever imagined yourself to be someone who is suffering in some way? 

Yesterday, in an effort to imagine life for millions of people in this world who lack access to a close and reliable source of clean water, we took some time to walk to get our water.  Our first journey was with the kids of Crossroads Mennonite Church.  They've spent the last 8 weeks learning about water issues using the Mennonite Central Committee water curriculum.  We walked about 1/3 mile to the house of a couple of the kids' teachers, collected water, and walked back.  Then they made hot chocolate and tea with the water and sold it for donations to World Vision for clean water projects in Kenya.  The kids raised $44.02!!  I'm hoping and praying that this experience, along with the last 8 weeks of lessons, makes a lasting impression on the children.  Their excitement and encouragement certainly made an impression on me!  (Thanks again so much Ken, Hadia, Alice, Fenny, and many others at Crossroads Church for your generosity, hospitality, and encouragement!)

After the hot chocolate, Ken, Hadia, Kiri, Dave, our kids, and I made our way down to the river to complete our own water walk.  This journey was nearly one mile (0.85 miles to be exact!) each way.  We filled 14 gallon-sized milk jugs in the river and then carried them back up the hill using backpacks (was this cheating?), hands, and even our heads for a short time.  The weight of one gallon of water is 8.34 pounds, and most of us were carrying 3 gallons, so we were lugging around 25 pounds per person.  Based on the statistics I've read, it's common for women to carry 40 pounds at a time for distances of 3-4 miles from the water source, so we were a little short on both weight and distance.  It was enough to give us plenty to consider, though.

A couple of things were particularly surprising.  One was that the walk back didn't seem so bad.  It's not comfortable for me to carry 2 gallons of milk from the convenience store that's just a few blocks from my house, so I was expecting the water walk to be more of a struggle.  I'm wondering if things would have been different had I completed the walk by myself.  I think that having others to share in the effort made it bearable.  I was reminded that I can complete difficult tasks and make it through hardships if I know that I'm not alone, that someone is walking with me.  I also realized that our simulation was also much different than the real thing.  Our trip to get water was a one-time event.  I imagine that it is wearying to think about using this method to get water day after day after day.  We had no threat of violence on our journey, like some women and children do.  We weren't going to use our water for drinking or cooking, so for us, there was no risk of getting sick.  We didn't lose any significant amount of time for school, meaningful work, hobbies, or rest.  These are some of the real burdens for those who lack easy access to water; this is the true weight of water.

I was also curious why no one stopped us to ask what we were doing.  I'm sure we must have looked a little out of place in our caravan with our large backpacks and our water-filled milk jugs; I expected some questions or at least some puzzled looks!  Maybe this was the part of the simulation that most resembles real life.  How many people are stopping to ask why, when there is so much wealth and so much technology in our world, are there so many people who are still truly suffering due to a lack of clean water?

After a mile in someone else's shoes, I'm feeling especially grateful for my water today.

In case you're wondering, we used the 14 gallons of river water to flush the toilet in our house!

If you would like to donate money to fund World Vision's clean water projects in Kenya, please visit my fundraising page.  Thanks!


  1. Lori, awesome event! I really like your reflections on this one, too.

    I'm so proud of you.

  2. I know from backpacking that water is definitely the heaviest item you carry. And...40 pounds of water??! Wow. That does put it into perspective. Backpacking you don't really want your pack to be heavier than 35 does give you something to consider. I am thankful that for my more than abundant water.

  3. Great reflections!! I didn't even think about the walk back not seeming that bad...but it probably was b/c of the group (and we talked the whole way). Hopefully the comradery in the developing world helps make the daily trips more bearable too.