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Offbeat 31 July 2015

I drink water from the tap. It’s an old Namibian thing that stretches back to the time when shoes weren’t mandatory, and an enamel tin mug was a handy camping accessory.

The trick of drinking from the tap is to keep the taps at home clean. Out of home, there are plastic bottles full of very expensive water, or humble requests for a glass from a cafe. Before that, the trick was to turn the tap on gently, make a fist around it and wipe away anything that may or may not have been there.
The tap water tasted a lot better than the water from pools and troughs, the obvious options on hikes, when water bottles held not much more than a few meagre and frustrating droplets. The last time I can remember drinking from a pool was in high school, on a hike in the Naukluft. I got one chance at a cupped handful before someone stuck his sweaty feet in it. Drinking from a pool that baboons drink from is one thing, but sweaty adolescent feet is something entirely different.
Fortunately for me I never contracted any of the bad things that came from water and unsanitized taps.
Water was a major pleasure in the heat of those days, even better at quenching thirst than any amount of Coke or cool drink. The tap water plunged down the throat bringing instant relief. Then things began to change. First there was the hectic drought of the late Seventies which made water taste so much better but also heralded locks on misused public taps. Drinking fountains showed up shortly after, but I never got any joy out of trying to suck water out of the air. After that came glasses. Then came the plastic bottles. None of them were as satisfying as the gush from tap.
With the new drought I don’t see many public taps outside of malls. I wouldn’t drink out of a public tap anyway, now that there is semi-purified water all over the place. And thanks to the cholera epidemic, I follow the advice given by a certain Ministry, at the height of the epidemic, and try to avoid even washing my hands in a rest room. Fortunately I was taught not to pee on my hands, in case you are wondering
The new drought is obviously severe, same as the other drought last year, and the one the year before that. All the usual advice is going around, not to flush unless you really have to, baths measured in single-digit centimeters, and on-and-off showers with soaping in between.
Fortunately I was taught to dislike lawn during the drought in the late seventies but to be honest I also dislike the effort of looking after them. The garden is water-friendly. The trees really only need water once a year, but deep. And other plants can be watered with the leftover cooking water.
The one thing that I notice is that now, in the middle of these arid years, water tastes really good, once more, same as it did in the late Seventies. Chocolate cake, love and the warmth of the sun are all improved by their absence or scarcity. Water is the same.
If it tastes sweet to you, now, wait a decade or two. I imagine that the two liter recommendation may be converted into a ration, and bottled water may be so expensive that we enjoy it more than mugs of beer. Perhaps that water will taste like honey, though I hope it tastes just like water.
I imagined once, that I might have a swimming pool. I am developing a sense that might be selfish now, yet I am also very aware of the solution of a couple of aging relatives in Zimbabwe, who will interrupt an international call to rush out and take the cover off the pool when it begins to rain, just in case the taps dry up again. Maybe just a small pool with run-off from the roof.
I remember how people carried their water with them, as mobile wealth, in the Frank Herbert’s novel Dune. I don’t think that we are that far off from the point where we measure our wealth by water consumption. In fact it is only the big houses of clueless foreigners that now seem to have lawns.
I do think that everyone should take a suck from the tap and realise just how good water can taste.

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