The pump required electricity, so if we were unable to pay the electricity bill or a storm came and knocked out power or flooded the pump, we were without running water in our home for days or, on rare occasions, for weeks. At such times we hauled water in five gallon buckets from the lovely creek that ran beneath a culvert halfway down our lane. This water was used to wash clothes and flush toilets. A little way up that creek, on a different path, a more pristine spring gurgled straight out of a ridge, cold and pure-tasting. We used rinsed milk jugs to collect water for drinking, cooking and washing dishes from this precious water source.
Though we didn't mind the topped-off milk jugs, we kids used to hate hauling the five gallon buckets of creek water back up the lane to the house, balancing it between two of us as we shared the handle that bit into our palms as we stumbled along. It was such a chore, especially in the heat and humidity of summer.
Often, instead of hauling water for bathing, we simply bathed in the creek on hot days, taking our soap into the water, not thinking about the microbes we were lathering into our hair and scrubbing onto our skin. It was like swimming....with a purpose...and a more beautiful bathing area could not have been desired.
Looking back now, our family was very lucky to have such a beautiful, sustaining creek just a few minutes walk down the lane from our home.
I thought about this childhood experience yesterday as I watched CBS Sunday Morning, an indispensable Sunday tradition I inherited from my dad. The feature story was about how many people of the Navajo Nation have never in all their lives had running water in their homes. Their water is delivered by a Navajo woman named Darlene Arviso who drives dozens of miles each day in a huge tanker to pour precious water into the plastic storage barrels of homes.
In the story it points out that most of us use around 100 gallons each day, but individuals of the Navajo Nation get by on a fraction of that - sometimes a mere 7 gallons.
Truly, it's a travesty and an embarrassment that we here in the Phoenix desert flood our grass yards with water, maintain our pristine pools with hundreds of gallons annually and take long, relaxing showers with water sources that were allocated for our needs long ago when the Native American tribes had no say in the rights to water that their people had been using and respecting long before we discovered them. It's astounding that there are people in our own country who would not even have access to drinking water if it weren't for the efforts of a few, dedicated individuals. Even so these people struggle to eek every last drop from their delivered water as long as they can, and what must they give up to do that? Clean clothes? Baths? Refreshing sips throughout a hot, dusty day?
I am a big believer in solidarity, meaning that if we know there are people who go without basic nutritious food daily, we should make an effort to remember them when we crave ice cream and feel like running to the store for such a trivial desire. We should remember them when we want to stuff our faces although we're not really hungry. In just such a way, I believe in remembering the Navajo Nation and so many other tribes and communities on this planet who struggle to have clean sources of water every day, and in thinking of them I choose not to grow a grass yard in the desert summer; I choose not to run the water in the shower as I'm lathering my hair and body with soap; I choose not to just dump "extra" unused water down the drain when I could use it for my plants
Being a citizen of this world means remembering our fellow citizens. I try - though I often fail - to continue to grow in solidarity with others who do not have access to what my family has, and remembering what my family has, I thank God that I have it and try to NEVER take it for granted.
But there is more that we can do, you and I, than merely reflect on the hardships of others. George McGraw, as it mentioned in the CBS story, runs a nonprofit called DigDeep which is endeavoring to dig a very deep well for the people of the Navajo Nation. In contributing to the Navajo Water Project, we can and will support the dignity and right to life of our American neighbors.