It is Christmas Day and I am sitting in my bed, listening to the rain outside, struggling to fall asleep because I am enjoying it so much.
In ending the year, I am inevitably reflecting. At one point I asked myself ‘what exactly was it that made it such a tough time’? It was, of course, a few things. And there was one I had somehow left off the list. We thought we were going to run out of water!
The year began in paralyzing fear. Everything pointed to a pending drought, a regional disaster that would rip asunder our already shaky foundations. Day Zero loomed. Thousands had already lost jobs. Our sector was hit hard. Electronic billboards by the freeways told us how little we had left, virtually begged us to use less.
I learned the gentle art of cleaning my body fully in five litres. The fundamental necessity of bowls and jugs and bottles. The absurdity of flushing drinking water down the toilet, without first using that water for bathing and soaking clothing. We carried around bottles of our own drinking water, fearful that requesting it from hosts would be an imposition. We learned that bleach is a powerful tool in preserving grey water. That a bath is not something you bathe your body in, but an essential means of catching, storing and recycling. We knew that when (and it really felt like ‘when’) Day Zero came, we would regret every drop we had ever wasted. A lot of middle class Capetonians like me learned something that normal South Africans have known all along - water is scarce and valuable.
Arrogant religious types stated, without reference to their own sacred books chronicling all manner of natural disasters, that God would send the rain, so there was nothing to fear (and therefore also nothing to learn). We can assume that had the rains not come, we would be told we were being punished for our sins, with the righteous ones indignant that they were collateral damage. If only we would all ‘come right’.
Then the rains came. And we realised how frightening that period had been, and tried to push it down into our subconscious to avoid having to process that fear and level up to our utter frailty.
The rains came and our gardens, which had been left for dead, sprang back to life. Boring, science-obsessed people like me danced barefoot and thanked the gods.