Archive for the ‘Water’ Category
Water weirdness and inconveniences are the most pronounced in remote areas of El Salvador, but people in the city, and oftentimes poor urban areas, suffer from interruptions in service that can last for days. The further you go out into the country, the greater chance you have of no running water (and no sewage system). Many communities have a system where the water only runs for a set time each day or sometimes every other day. No one I know in El Salvador has running water coming to their home 24×7. That’s why many houses with modern construction and indoor plumbing fixtures will have either a big black tank to hold a lot of water, sitting somewhere up high to create water pressure (and have running water always), or a cisterna (a cement reserve water tank) to store extra water for when the water is not running from the town or city pipes. Real Estate ads will note if a rental has a ‘cisterna,’ which is important.
Where we lived in Los Planes de Renderos, it was an odd box. There is a big water tank managed by ANDA, located on the main street across the street from “El Mirador”, which residents of the nearby area get their water from. Water ran on a schedule that appeared to accommodate nine-to-fivers (it’s actually 8 to 5 here – a 44 hour workweek). It would start running sometime in the afternoon, say 4:30 or 5:00pm, would run all night, then go off again sometime after 8am. But it varied. Sometimes we’d have water at 11am or 2pm. You never knew. So when I wasn’t working, I had a bucket system I set up in the kitchen and bath so I always had water on hand, since the Pila is outside of the house and a sump pump has to be turned on to get water out of the Cisterna, which is how we took showers if the water wasn’t running. This on and off water schedule was somewhat hazardous in that if a knob or valve was accidentally left open when the tap was dry, later, sometimes even the middle of the night, oops! The water runneth over in the pila, or somewhere else. This did not phase us in the early days of Los Planes because were were in the “fixed rate” water system (more on that later). The other odd thing about the water where we lived was the water pressure when it ran. When it ran during the day, the water pressure seemed normal, but at nighttime, it could come in with the power of a sandblaster. Our neighbor, Doris, would often walk up from her house a block down from us to in front of our house, where her water meter happens to be installed (long story, she did not have running water until a few years ago), and turn off the water because it was spritzing out of her pila valve.
Soapy run-off. In many neighborhoods throughout El Salvador, something to get used to is seeing run-off from sinks poured right onto the street from a PVC pipe. Don’t worry, it’s not raw sewage from anyone’s toilet. It’s water from a sink and may contain either dish or laundry detergent. I know, it’s “not nice” to mother nature, but the number of pollutants and volume of them that the OECD countries have tossed onto their own and neighboring countries soils and air dwarfs all the soap runoff here, so I’m not going to fret about it. It was shocking to me to see people washing clothes into the river or bathing when I first got here, but now it’s normal to me.
Minimum Rate / Cifra Minima – for water / agua. Officially, I don’t know of anyone who is supposed to be on a “fixed” minimum rate plan for water in El Salvador (charged the minimum rate regardless of the cubic meters used), but apparently many people are recipients of this. Either it’s the water meter, or someone has “fixed ‘em” in the billing system, or a little bit of both. I visited a friend in Jayaque a few months ago, and his relatives there told me they’ve never paid more than the minimum. His aunt walked me around her house, proudly showing me her garden, flowers, and hanging baskets, which she devotes two hour a day to watering! They are not rich, but somewhere in the middle to upper middle class zone, and in no need of a minimum rate plan. Even we were recipients of this happy plan for almost a year and a half. I noticed our bill was $2.29 one month. Next month it came in at the same amount, etc. I wasn’t going to question this, since after all, we gave water to our poor neighbors next to us who had no running water going to their house, and it seemed a fair deal that ANDA, notorious for corruption, should help subsidize poor families in El Salvador. Like a Robin Hood / Poetic Justice sort of thing. Well, all that wonderfulness came to an end one day last October when they came to install a new water meter. They charged us for the meter and the labor to install it in a separate bill – close to $35 – this would compare to being charged $100-$150 for the water company in the States, I think. Then the bill went up. I was busy working a lot, so was not watering the garden much, but late February, after I quit, I decided to give the poor lawn and plants much needed water, and was rather liberal.
Around that same time, we had a major user-error take place. Remember what I told you about open valves? Well, hubby took a shower one day around 10pm. The water was not running, so he had to open the valve to the cisterna and run the sump pump to bathe. Then he went to bed. Next morning, around 6:30am I walk onto the patio and see water. Which was odd, since it’s not rainy season. I follow the water up to the cisterna and see…. it’s overflowing from the top. The same valve that lets water out of the cisterna also lets water in, of course. The water came back on sometime during the night, so it’s possible we had water running like a garden hose on full blast, up to seven hours, into the cisterna. Our bill the next month was $38, and it’s normally $9-$15. I know that doesn’t sound like much to you, but women come out on the news here complaining about a $40 water bill. It’s like getting a water bill in the U.S. for $250 for an apartment only (though I hear in places like Georgia this is not too uncommon). Meanwhile, ANDA has also started to charge us for “alcantarillados” (sewage pipe use), even though everyone at the company knows Los Planes does not have sewage pipes, everyone has a septic tank. I went to the water company to straighten this extra charge out, which ranges depending on your water use, about $2 a month for us, and they sent an employee out. Instead of verifying that we have a septic tank and no sewage, he identified ‘leaks’ in valves and toilets and noted them to my husband. I kept going back in the following months, and found it unnerving, because the clerks there would say “Oh yeah, there’s no ‘aguas negras’ (sewage) in Los Planes, I’ll take it off your bill.” And the charge would come up again the next month. Finally, in May the clerks explained they cannot take it off the bill until someone has physically “verified” there are no sewage pipes (like the rep they sent who didn’t do that). Doesn’t ANDA have an infrastructure map to identify who has sewage and who doesn’t, since after all THEY are the people who would install and maintain those pipes, right? But perhaps it’s just easier to slap the charge on everyone’s bill, and force people to call up or got to their office every month and have the charge taken off, which people who have less time and more money will not waste their time with. So between the phantom sewage lines and accidental cisterna overflow, I decided to Boycott ANDA. I shut the water off at the main valve, and said we’d use the bucket system or pila until that darn thing was empty. This was much to my husband’s consternation, but I pay for the water bill, and though it’s not as much money for us as a Salvadoran, it was the point of the matter.
“We paid for that water and we’re gonna use ALL of it,” I said.
We’ve moved back to the country, and the water is much more predictable, even though it does come to the house every day. It runs every other day from 6am – 12pm, a fairly long time window. If I worked milking cows from 4am – noon it would be difficult, but let’s remember the Salvadoran rule for receiving any services: the assumption that there is always someone at home to be able to tend to things. On that morning we have a chance to fill the Pila, our garrafon de agua (big water bottle), buckets, everything. The water system used to be a fixed rate of $5 a house, but there was much bickering going on, and people would often turn their water valves back “on” when they weren’t supposed to, taking more water out after the water guy who turned all the valves on and off closed their valve. Families felt it unjust to pay the same amount when other families used more. So, the problem got solved when they, too, decided to install water meters at everyone’s home. I don’t think they were charged the same as ANDA charged us for the meter install, but I’ll double check. There’s one problem with the new system, however. The new water guy, who now just opens and closes the main valve, is assigned the task of reading the water meters, and he’s illiterate. So, once a month he and a woman named “Lola,” whose isn’t that educated, but can at least read, walks around with him and checks the meters. They sometimes make mistakes, or the billing people sometimes do, but since everyone knows each other, they seem to be able to work out errors and disputes.
Last week I got into a conversation with my neighbor Mary, over the fence. Since she has a new baby (a surprise) along with her 11 year old daughter, we talked about child-raising. Oh, it’s old hat for me, she says. I took care of my brothers since I was very young. I was 13 years old when my parents both left for the United States. Mary was left all alone to care for her 6 and 7 yr old brothers. This sounds unheard of in the U.S., but remember El Salvador was at the tail end of a horrible civil war. Mary didn’t know how to cook, she had to learn. They were living in a different neighborhood at the time, and the water only ran once a month. In between you had to go to a small creek to wash clothes or haul water back home when your water ran out.
Stories like these are often told by our grandparents (or great-grandparents, depending on how old you are). It sounds like something from 50 or 75 years ago. But this story comes from a woman who is only 33 years old – it was 20 years back.
Since then, Mary’s parents have been able to send money to help their children move to a better house, and were even able to save for her two younger brothers to attend school at university level in the states on a Visa, a major accomplishment for Salvadorans.
The house she lives in is pretty nice, so before today I figured her parents were U.S. residents, probably with a professional type job. As Mary’s story unfolded, I learned it is the opposite. Her parent’s are ‘mojados’ – they are illegal aliens. I was very surprised to hear this. I wonder how hard they have worked these last 20 years to give a better life to Mary and her brothers.
Things are much sunnier for Mary’s family now. We talked about how maybe one day her mom will come back to live here. Here in a house she helped build, but has never seen, with her daughter, whom she cannot visit in El Salvador.
Yes, times were hard then, and it wasn’t that long ago.
Colonia Quezaltepeque in Santa Tecla has been without water since the weekend and it’s Thursday now. A video clip today on Channel 33 (Canal 33) shows people waiting in line with buckets and containers of all sizes to bring home. Some waited in line for 3 hours. A woman in line with a small bucket is interviewed:
ORIGINAL Text, in Spanish:
Periodista: Este poquito de agua para que le va servir.
Mujer de la colonia Quesaltepeque: Aunque sea para lavar trastes porqu ni para ir al bano ay. Todos tenemos sucio, y los trastes anda un gran mosquero alli.
Periodista: PARA tomar anda, como estan haciendo? Comprando bolsitas.
Periodista: Es un gasto extra… Mujer: Para comprar la garaffa grande
TRANSLATION into English:
Journalist: So what is this little bit of water for?
Woman from Quezaltepeque neighborhood: Even if it’s only for washing dishes..because there isn’t even any for the bathroom. Everything is dirty, and the dishes are full of flies.
Journalist: What are you doing for drinking water? Woman: Buying little bags [of it]. Journalist: It’s an extra Cost Woman: To buy the big water bottle.
Seeing reports like this of citizens suffering from water outages and shortages is disturbing when we are aware of mass corruption within ANDA, the public water company – we’re talking millions of dollars embezzled; its former President did finally serve time after hiding out in France. Then we hear about a company, ALUVIAH, taking water from a creek illegally in the community of Berlin, and bottling it for sale outside of the country. The residents of two different communities use this same creek for all of their water needs – drinking, bathing, washing.
WATER IS A SCARCE RESOURCE in EL SALVADOR. Anything you can do to help citizens of El Salvador have better infrastructure and less corruption is welcomed.
During my travels last Friday to both Santa Tecla, and Miramonte, a neighborhood in San Salvador, I heard complaints in passing conversations that there was no water. Later on I learned why: Vandals damaged critical parts of a metallic structure that supports a main water pipe 48 inches in diameter. The act occurred some time before mid-afternoon on Thursday, May 19th, when the regional manager received a call the pipes were damaged.
It created a water outage in 30 or more neighborhoods. This adds to the current public pains rooted in the propane gas “polemica” (controversy), and eviction of street vendors from areas like Calle Arce and Ruben Dario.
The water pipe belongs to ANDA, the public water company. They partially resolved the problem by rerouting water to an older pipe, but cannot deliver the same volume of water, so the city is forced to ration water until repairs finish, a 10+ day job which costs $100,000. Mauricio Funes, President of El Salvador, has responded by accusing the opposing political party, ARENA, of “Sabatoge” (English translation by Google here).
According to testimony of ‘locals’ in the area, armed men kept watch while the vandals used sophisticated equipment to cut the structure. Certainly not the work of amateurs looking for scrap metal; nothing was robbed, and it’s clear the intent was to damage the pipe.
Though Funes’ remark is a stretch in assuming exactly who damaged the pipe and what they intended to accomplish with the sabotage, one good turn deserves another: ARENA seems to have no limit to how far they will go to damage FMLN’s reputation. Since 2009, after they lost the presidential election, they have paid for billboard and TV ads everywhere calling the FMLN administration “Incapaces” (incapable/inept). And what with the former ARENA administration’s association to death squads and massacres such as The Massacre of Mozote (detailed story here by Mark Danner), a little pipe-cutting looks like innocent mischief.
As of Tuesday, 80% of service was re-established. Repairs should conclude this Saturday and Sunday to mend the supporting structure and the broken pipe, and on Monday water routed to an older, 42 inch pipe during the outage will be re-routed to the new pipe again.
The woman who lives on the other side the fence came by to ask last night if she could “buy” water from us. I remembered the owner’s comments when we moved in about how they “gifted” water to the neighbors next door and “below” us (which I presumed last night, was her). “Let me know how much it is when you get the bill” she says. “I think that will work”, I say, since I already give water to our next-door neighbor, since he is quite poor, “but you’ll have to get another hose to connect with mine as it won’t reach over the fence”. They run a pupusa place on the hill so I think they can handle the hos.e part.
So I mention this to my next door neighbor today, and immediately he says “Don’t trust her. She’s bad! ” NOW what have I gotten myself into! He explained there was some issue with the neighbors down below, and according to him, they hooked up a wire to the electric box. He colored his profile of her with another detail, saying “She hangs out with ‘brujos’ (witches).”
Later, I caught up with the workman about it, since he started renovating this house from day one after the owner bought it. With his parochial Spanish I could understand about half the story, but bottom line, there was a dispute, and those neighbors came up “putiando” (swearing) at them and now neither he nor the owner talk with them anymore.
So this is interesting….
The lady down below just ‘moved back in’ a month or so ago, but hadn’t approached me, so I suspect she doesn’t like the price another neighbor is charging her or perhaps…another dispute?
You may have asked yourself “WHY is your neighbor asking if she can “buy” water from me in the first place?”
Let me illuminate. Shortly after I moved here, I got the scoop: the water company did not set up water pipes running from the main pipe to various residents’ homes (either the water company, ANDA did not want to or I’m guessing it was cost prohibitive for the residents). So Doris, a different neighbor living down below, would buy water from the lady who used to own the house, by the barrel. She finally got her “water line” set up, which is a small 1 inch PVC pipe running along (on top of, not buried) our neighbors yard, and then up in the “air” over the street below (as the hill drops) before taking a right angle to reach her house. Doris is very happy now that she doesn’t have to make special arrangements just to have water in her house.
If you think the water situation was bad, it gets BETTER:
During our talk today the workman explained that 3 years ago (somewhere in 2008) when he started working on the house, NONE of the houses below had ANY electricity. “Are you serious?” I asked, “when you told me there were no lights, I thought you meant no streetlights. All this time, the people down there were living with NO water lines, and NO electricity?”
Unbelievable. No Water (beg your neighbor to buy it by the barrel), and No Electricity. How did the live? So much for a refridgerator, the 6:00 news, let alone a hair dryer. Whoa.
There are at least 50 -100 people living on that section of the street. Just Doris’ area alone, which consists of her, 2 adult sons + daughter-in-law + 3 grandkids, her sister, and another 5 or so living behind them, you’re up to 12-15. Now walk down the street and keep counting. No Water. No Electricity. Wow.
The Morning Music
It’s another typical morning in Jicaron City, El Salvador. At 25 minutes to 6am, I’ve begun to wake up, having fallen asleep early the night before. I slept well, so the thumping sound drumming out the neighbor’s stereo one house over and up the hill is fortunately, less troublesome than it would be.
At 5:45 another neighbor one house over in the other direction begins his morning chorus, having taken his queue from neighbor number one. We now have a partial orchestra, with a thempety thump on one side (is it a reggaeton or a modern latino techno?) and a cheery Ranchera ringing from the other – all we need now is a good salsa or cumbia and we’re complete!
Ahh..a hot shower
Today was a “water” day* which means the water valves coming from the street in our neighborhood are turned on for 1-2 hours while everyone fills up their pila (washing sink), barrels, and various jugs. For my husband and I, we simply turn the valve for our water tank on and let it fill; with a tank our sink and shower act like any other plumbing in the States.
I decided to jump on the opportunity to take a “hot” shower. Hot water heaters have little use here but for less than 2 months a year that its cooler, but for that 2 hour window when the street tap is turned on, we can take a “faux” hot shower, because the water has been “heated” naturally from the sun as the tank sits atop a hill and its sunny every day in Chalatenango. During a string of rainy days or during a cold wave, one must be brave getting into the shower. If it ever gets brrr cold here I’m heating up water on the stove, ‘nuf bravery for me.
* We share water with another neighborhood. On days we don’t get water, their taps are turned on.