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31 Oct 2010

Water Management

The rainy season is drawing to a close and the country is preparing for the big water festival to mark its end in a couple of weeks’ time.  The management of water here is a contrast to the ‘on tap’ ways that we’re used to in the UK.  I thought I’d share some thoughts on how things work here.

For starters the main source of water is the rain that falls, and all over the country you will see these giant clay pots positioned under pipes draining water from the roofs of houses.  This is to collect all the water that falls for use in the future.  Most Cambodians drink, cook and wash directly from these, as we observed on our homestay.  The health implications of this should be obvious.

Water collection pots - note corregated iron used to direct water into active pot

In our house, which is on the first floor, the next step is getting some of this water pumped up into a storage tank which sits high above our roof in order to provide the necessary pressure required to power taps.

Our towering tank

We used to have a shower which was pulling water directly from this storage tank.  That was until Gilly somehow managed to snap the metal tap, here is the carnage that resulted.  When it happened we were left with a gushing hole in the wall which one of us needed to plug while the other went to get help from the indifferent landlady...

That hole on the right used to be a solid piece of metal, now snapped off from the wall

The sorry state of our shower

The problem was temporarily solved when we found the master tap to stop the supply of water to the shower.  However, this also meant that our sink was now dry and the toilet didn’t flush.  The landlord came back and suggested that fixing the shower would be a big job but that, if we were happy to live without a shower, he could just plug the hole to get the other things working again.  We accepted this kind offer and our shower tap now looks like this.

Hole plugged, shower no more...

The result of losing our shower means that we now take what are referred to as ‘bucket showers’.  This involves scooping water from a massive storage vat in the bathroom and sloshing it over yourself.  As this water is kept indoors (refilled from the storage tank outside) it is remarkably cool and, when it’s a hot day, very refreshing.  This same tank and bucket can be used to flush the toilet so we have a backup if we ever lose the flush function again in the future.

Water vat, and little green bucket with handle

Another new device to me is the affectionately named ‘bum gun’.  Those familiar with the French bidet system will quickly understand the benefits of high pressure water near to the toilet.  Other volunteers, who shall remain nameless, swear by the gun, even going as far as describing the experience as mildly pleasurable.

 Draw, aim, fire!

You’ll be pleased to hear that we aren’t drinking this untreated water but the process for making water that is safe to drink is slightly more complex than back in the UK where the worst you have to worry about is an occasional taste of chlorine.  Option one is the purchase of 20 litre barrels of drinking water.  After an initial $4 deposit on the barrel these cost $1 a time but this does require going out to collect it and getting it home on the motorbike.  This is a potentially expensive way of sourcing drinking water on the VSO allowance.

Pure water, all 20 litres of it

Option two is the boil and filter method.  This involves boiling a big pan of water, letting it cool and then filtering it through what can only be described as a large clay plant pot.  This is then collected in a plastic bin before it can be tapped off for drinking, cleaning vegetables from the market and brushing teeth, all things you’d rather not do with the ‘raw’ water from the big tank.

 Inside the water filter

And outside

If this all sounds a big like slumming it then you’ll be happy to hear that we do have a fridge, a relative luxury like the flushing toilet, and that this is used to keep our water cool which is much nicer to drink when it gets really hot.  Strangely the last couple of days could almost be described as cold and I’ve been wearing jeans and, last night, a fleece!  Right now the fridge is out of action since the power went down a couple of hours ago but luckily the cold weather means we’re not desperate for cold water or the fan.

Nice colour co-ordinated water holders

On the subject of cold water, as Gilly mentioned in her last post, we appear to have moved in the residence of Baron Ice Today, daily supplier of oversized ice cubes to the entire province.  They are used in cool boxes everywhere to keep beers, water and soft drinks cold for customers in all manner of cafes and restaurants.  These giant ice cubes are cut off an even bigger slab every morning at 4am using a very loud electric rotating blade – right outside our bedroom window!  This process lasts about an hour and is currently damaging my mental health.  We have raised the issue once and he kindly gave us one morning off before he was back at it again today.  We’re currently discussing how we politely say we never want to hear the noise again without causing a raucous.  Wish us luck!

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