Living without water

FTW’s Liesl Venter shares her new normal.

Amidst one of the worst droughts ever to hit Cape Town, residents have been warned to prepare for the worst – a city with no water at all.

In my garage, there is a steel cupboard that once used to house tools, some long-forgotten tins of paint, a shovel or two, an old coffee tin filled with screws. General garage paraphernalia I suppose.

That was until the dams dried up.

No one can be blamed for thinking me a doomsday prepper if they were to peek inside. For here you will find shelf upon shelf of alcohol disinfectant, wet wipes, steriliser, dry shampoo, no-flush toilet spray, paper plates, and more.

Anything and everything you could possibly need in a waterless environment is stashed into my cupboard. Every possible surface holds sealed plastic bottles of water.

These are my most treasured possessions at present. I will risk saying I feel so strongly about these goodies, I will protect them with my life.

At time of writing, the official word from those in the know was that Cape Town would reach Day Zero on July 15. I hate that word. Day Zero. I really do. Ithas such an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it sound to it. It fills me with complete dread. It evokes visions of soldiers with big guns patrolling the streets keeping water looters at bay. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would need to prepare to live without water.

But here we are. Living in Cape Town in the year 2018, surrounded by water on all sides, but on the brink of not having a drop to drink.

It can be avoided, says the mayor. The but lingers in the air. There is always a but. All it will take is for the few million people in the city to use less water. Lots and lots and lots less. Restricted to only 50 litres per person per day, water or the lack thereof, seems to dominate nearly every conversation.

“We have house guests with diarrhoea,” says a friend followed by near hysterical laughter. “We have to flush. Every single time. I think I am going to get them hospitalised. Hospitals have water. We don’t.”

“My hair is driving me mad,” says another friend, stating matter-of-factly that she simply can’t rid her long tresses of soap and conditioner in her short shower.

“An alarm went off while I was in the shower at the gym,” says another. “I had the fright of my life. I thought I was being arrested.”

Another woman tells of how the entire family of four now bath in less than 20 litres of water while someone told me the other day that her life had been changed forever by a no-flush toilet product. “We can now wee the entire day without flushing. That stuff is amazing.”

Saving water has become our thing in this part of the world. It’s not easy. It requires monitoring of one’s household around the clock.

I am the official water police. You come to my house for dinner you are obliged to bring your own water or go thirsty. I don’t particularly care which one you opt for.

The toilet situation on its own is nightmarish to say the least. Mellowing is encouraged in homes and public loos alike.

All I can say is that as Day Zero approaches, my level of yuckness seems to diminish.

So, maybe don’t judge too harshly when I say that cleaning houses and things are no longer a priority around here, not to mention that my allocated 50 litres of municipal water only goes so far when I have drunk, cooked and washed myself.

Showers are limited to 90 seconds twice a week. The other days a facecloth and bucket have to do the trick. Clothes are worn again and again. When they are dirty then you wear them one more time just to keep washing to a minimum.

At the coffee shop down the road, the owner says she has just about had enough.

“The only thing possibly worse than not having water is not having water in the run-up to not having it,” she says.

At least you sell more coffee, I quip. If you were wondering, buying saves water as there is one less dirty cup to wash at home.

She has a point though. Less cleaning, less washing, fewer dishes does not sound all that bad. Until the penny drops and reality sets in. There is no reprieve in sight.

This is it.

Living without water is difficult. Damn difficult. In my household, we have dropped below 4000 liters per month.

Doing it is one thing. Sustaining it completely another.

Liesl Venter, FTW’s Cape Town correspondent and assistant editor, is a freelance writer who lives in Fish Hoek with her husband Halden, a freelance photographer, and two young children.

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