Water For All
By Margaret Van Every
The high walls of Las Delicias, armed with broken glass on top, were a formidable bulwark against the needy of San Antonio, who subsisted in squalor just on the walls’ shadow side. Every dwelling in Las Delicias had its own swimming pool, tennis courts, orchards and ornamental gardens, all of which required watering during the dry season. Except for the golf courses, gardens and swimming pools preempted all other needs for water—water for drinking, laundry, personal hygiene, or flushing.
Though the availability of clean water had always been an accurate definer of the classes, it is fair to say that even the well-off had to take some measures not to squander this precious commodity, especially during the last month of the dry season when almost all reserves were exhausted. They might turn the water off in the shower when soaping or not leave it running when brushing teeth.
Meanwhile, the community of San Antonio would lose several ancianos each year from heat and dehydration. For cooking they mostly fried or grilled their typical food on braziers. For drinking, they relied on Coca Cola and Fanta, pulque or tequila. They never had toilets, so flushing wasn’t their problem, but sanitation went from its usual bad to impossible. Unable to wash hands, they were prey to typhoid and dysentery. They were able to shower once a week at the public baths near the zócalo for a couple of pesos, which included soap, a sisal “washcloth,” towel and 10 minutes in a shower stall with dressing room. Women washed clothes in the public stone basin or knelt down at the banks of what was left of a small stream, beating the clothes threadbare but clean on rocks.
In the cool of the morning, an 8-year-old girl dressed in a plaid, pleated skirt and white knee-socks skips down the long pebble driveway past the pool and grass tennis court, past the banana trees to the huge iron gate that opens to the street. The gardener is expecting her and lays down his sheers with the intention of locking the gates behind her.
In the road, standing with a bucket, is a barefoot girl about her own age, holding a bucket. “¿Agua?” she asks. “No tenemos agua. Por favor.”
The gardener is on the verge of closing and locking the gates, but the young mistress motions for him to admit the chiquilla with the bucket. Her bus then arrives and whisks her off to school. The gardener beckons the barefoot child to follow him to a spigot meant for garden hoses, and lets her fill her bucket to the point she struggles to walk away with it. Within an hour fifty villagers are lined up outside the walled estate, waiting patiently with buckets, waiting for someone to open wide the big iron gates.
They are accustomed to waiting. They have waited all their lives. They do not understand impatience. No one presumes to bang on the big gate or shout for admittance. At two p.m. the school bus returns, depositing the benefactress. She hops off the bus, rings for the gardener, the gates open.
The girl is very surprised to see such a long line of villagers with buckets. The old man in front of the line pleads with her, “Agua, señorita. Por favor, ten piedad. Por el amor de dios, necesitamos agua.”
Without another thought, she directs the gardener to let them in. Far into the night, stars and moon lighting the spigot, the people from the other side of the wall collect water from a rich person’s garden. What will it taste like, this same water that nourishes the fecund earth and fruit trees and los ricos of Las Delicias? Will it be different from the water the city runs through the pipes and taps of San Antonio during the rainy season? What will they do with their one bucket of water?
The thirsty of San Antonio find out that night. The little girl is soundly scolded for her unseemly generosity, is given to understand the dangers of acting on emotional impulse. The gardener loses his job, which everyone knows he had coming, because his duties included enforcing security on the estate grounds.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com