My biggest culture shock happens in the bathroom.
As I head back from months in Kenya, I inevitably have moments of surprise and wonder as I re-enter a different world as epitomized within the women’s restroom. The toilets have seats! There is toilet paper in every stall! And the toilet paper is so ridiculously soft and plush!
And it gets even better. There is the amazing luxury of a well-functioning tap from which water runs. Not only can I easily wash my hands, but this water even gets hot and cold! And – wait a minute – I could drink this! The shock of amazingly clean, perfectly drinkable water flowing from every tap still bowls me over for a moment.
I could drink this water straight from the tap of every sink in the Amsterdam bathroom. I don’t need to boil it and filter it and put it in my own bottle. I don’t even need to buy it. Amazing!
(I am well aware of the number of exclamation points in this entry, but toilet seats, toilet paper, and CLEAN WATER EVERYWHERE are absolutely punctuation-worthy!)
In many parts of the world, a tap with running water is a luxury. And clean water everywhere — water that won’t make you sick, water that won’t kill your babies – this is the stuff of dreams.
Most women in Africa walk for their water. The 40 billion hours a year that Africans spend walking to get water is mostly the work of women and girl children. Walking to the river, walking to the stream, walking to the borehole where the nearest water flows. Sometimes, walking for miles.
And still, this precious water too often contains diseases that will make them sick, diseases that will kill their babies. 800,000 children dying every year from diarrhea. Only 60% of my neighbors in Kenya have access to “improved water sources” – and that’s still water that should be boiled and filtered.
AMPATH operates a safe water project that works to give more of my neighbors in Kenya access to clean water by opening stores that sell ceramic water filters, spear-heading well drilling and refurbishment projects, and training communities about safe water.
At safe water (Maji Safi) shops, families can get high-quality ceramic water filters that can put an end to their constant boiling. The filters are a big investment for a family, but the safe water department believes this helps them value the filters and treat them with care.
On a bigger scale, they work on projects like wells for communities and functional taps for our rural health centers and hospitals.
I am thankful that I can go into virtually any bathroom in this country – not to mention all of the kitchens – and get a glass of clean water. Drinking clean, beautiful water in thanks.