When Super Typhoon Yutu struck the islands of Saipan and Tinian on October 24, it left the islands without electricity and running water. Life without power was a challenge to put mildly, especially at first. It was the absence of water, however that was the harder. In the early days after the storm, it was a relief to hear that the bottled drinking water companies were back up and running. However, the stories of multi-hour long lines for a single 5-gallon bottle of water were worrisome. Buying water would turn into a day-long event and one that would need to be repeated regularly. Aside from drinking water, though, it became more and more apparent to me how often, and how much, water we use throughout the day. Prior to the storm, we had taken the standard precaution of filling buckets and large containers with water. However, I was yelling at myself for agreeing not to fill the bathtub again, as we did in the previous storm, or not buying a large rain barrel while they were available. Suddenly, all the gallons and gallons of water stored around our house seemed desperately inadequate. We had a water catchment tank that, to our extreme surprise, after the storm it was full of clear, clean water. Relief. We at least had a reserve to draw from for flushing toilets, washing clothes, bathing, cleaning dishes, and the list went on and on. How much water we use without even blinking in a single day was shocking. Therefore, after a few days, as it became obvious that we were looking at a potentially long time without running water, even the supply of water in the catchment began to feel desperately finite. Water is life. And ours was limited.
So efficiency and thoughtfulness became imperative. Showers gave way to sponge baths from a small bucket. Brushing teeth required rinsing the toothbrush out with a small amount of fresh drinking water rather than the faucet. Diligently collecting water in bowls to wash and rinse dishes and making sure to remove as much food as possible to make the water last longer. Filling the dog’s water bowl half way to decrease water being wasted from it being splashed onto the floor. Those were the easy ones. But what was the best way to wash long hair without wasting water? Why do toilets require so much water to flush them and how do we continue toilet training a 2-year-old during this time? How were we going to wash clothes well when there isn’t power for the washing machine or enough water to run it if there was? With as much laundry as we had due to our bedroom window and sliding glass door breaking during the storm causing our dressers to be tossed around the room and clothing soaked, laundry was high on my must-do list. Not so much because I thought laundry was that important, but because I knew that in this humid environment, if the clothes wasn’t cleaned and dried thoroughly they would quickly turn moldy. To top it all off, on the third or fourth day after the storm, our dog decided to throw up the dinner she had scavenged from the beach the night before all over the only bed we had left bed, leaving us with one remaining set of clean sheets. Something that had been so simple, now felt like an impossible task. The pile of laundry was too much to think of doing by hand and all the laundomats on island were destroyed or closed. The crazy part was that I had done wash by hand on a number of occasions before, in both Tanzania and Nepal, but I simply could not remember how and was feeling woefully incompetent. When a friend of mine told me about a handmade “washing machine” using two buckets I figured it was worth a try. It was a saving grace. To my skeptical surprise, it actually got the clothes clean!
Washing clothes by hand has since become a part of my daily routine. The simplicity of it, combined with the satisfaction of accomplishing such an important task, has been almost healing. Generally, the task takes less than 30 minutes start to finish, but in that half hour each day, I started to feel a part of myself that had been lost somewhere inside come back. I felt in touch with nature again by being outside under the sun, I felt a sense of purpose in completing this task for my family, I felt a sense of pride in using such minimal tools with such little waste to complete this job. Comfort and convenience were nowhere to be found in this process, but it was simple and complete. I’d find my thoughts drifting off, wondering how many other ways we could get back to the basics and find ourselves happier. I decided I needed to remember these lessons even when the utilities were restored. Even when life was easier again. I needed to remember the ways of living that made me feel like the person I wanted to be. The ways of living that would teach my son how to live with the least impact on the earth and with resourcefulness in his character. And then, on November 7, two weeks exactly after the storm…we got water. Cool, clear water came pouring out of our faucets. There was never a sound so sweet.