First-world problems. You know what they are. We all have them. They’re the issues confronting and irritating those of us living in wealthy, industrialized countries that would leave people in the third world either scratching their heads in bewilderment or shaking them in disgust.
Things like: “I hate my job, but I make too much money to justify finding a new one.” Or “I want to take a shower but the maid is cleaning the bathroom.” or “How can I sleep when the fountain outside my window is so loud?” (Thanks to first-world-problems.com for the examples.)
My first-world problem reared its ugly head early Wednesday morning. My husband was in the shower. I was at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and reading The Times online. Our dog, Ginger, started barking, the low, gruff woof that signals an approaching zombie apocalypse. I peeked out the window, saw no one, zombie or otherwise, and shushed her.
Suddenly my husband appeared in the doorway, a ring of suds around his head and a SpongeBob towel around his torso. I was already busy wondering why a household whose youngest member had just turned 20 was still using SpongeBob towels when he announced, “The water’s off.”
It was one of those moments that occur periodically in every marriage. I looked at him. He looked at me. In unison we said, “I thought YOU paid the water bill.”
So there we were. No water. I called the Gainesville Public Utilities Department where a pleasant, sympathetic woman took my payment over the phone. It included an $80 slap on the wrist (no, make that a punch in the pocketbook) for being delinquent. She assured me the water would be back on by 5 p.m. at the very latest.
5 p.m.? That was more than eight hours without water. I had planned on a day at home, cleaning, baking and watching multiple episodes of “The Good Wife.” No water and, most of all, no functioning bathroom, threw a monkey wrench in everything.
I brushed my teeth using Diet 7-Up. I tried to do what chores I could that did not require the universal solvent. After sweeping and vacuuming, I found myself at a loss. Plus, I was obsessing about water. Every few minutes, I’d try the faucet to see if it had been turned back on. All I got was a disdainful hiss.
After lunch, I made a trip to the closest grocery store, ostensibly to buy bananas but, in reality, to use the restroom. The facility was sparkling clean and even featured fresh flowers on the counter. Good to know since I figured I might be making another trip there before the end of the day.
I’m pleased to report that my first-world problem corrected itself by 2 p.m. There was a knock on the door and a friendly man said he was checking to make sure someone was home before he turned the water back on.
The Water Crisis of 2014 was over.
As I stood in the shower long enough for the hot water to turn tepid, I pondered how far removed I was from my White County forebears who had managed with a well and a pump and, prior to that, a bucket and the Chattahoochee River. They’d raised crops and children in equal abundance, all without a flush toilet or hot and cold running water.
I thought of a charity that my daughter, Rachel, supports. It’s the Water Project whose work in sub-Saharan Africa provides sustainable water projects for communities, giving them access to clean water and proper sanitation.
Their work is inspirational. In Sierra Leone, for example, they train local partners to repair wells destroyed by years of civil war. Former child soldiers are employed to carry out much of the work, making it a story of redemption as well as restoration.
In Southern Sudan, they go to the most rural of villages, the ones that are usually overlooked. They provide not just wells but sanitation and pump maintenance training so the villagers can oversee their own projects going forward.
As soon as I dried off, this time with a Barney towel, I made a note to myself to go towel shopping as soon as possible. I then went online and made a donation to thewaterproject.org.
I’m not sure if it was a gesture of gratitude or an attempt at making amends for my first-world hubris but, either way, it’s something.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays.