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#114 Bottled Water

December 2, 2011

Submitted by Peter Blair, Election Observer and Huffington Post writer.

It goes without saying that Expat Aid Workers enjoy a refreshing glass of water as much as the next person, but for the seasoned EAW, water can provide hours of material for conversation and opportunities to prove their superiority over non-EAWs.

Any non-EAW reading this will immediately be thinking about how lucky EAWs are to be able to afford and gain access to clean drinking water while in a developing country, but the seasoned EAW will probably be thinking about the many types of drinking water available in the field – pros and cons of different packaging (10L jugs, 2L bottles and 330ml sachets), flavor disparities between brands (does Arwa really taste better than Coyah?) and the best place to buy six bottles of water for $5.47 instead of $5.82.

It is very important that newer EAWs don’t fall into traps when asked seemingly simple questions about water, or they risk exposing their lack of field cred.  All EAWs must express a preference for one type of bottled water over another, and be prepared to demonstrate an ironclad argument as to why it’s their favorite.  An EAW who has lived in their deployment zone for long enough will have lots of good reasons for why they are loyal to their chosen brand of bottled water, but the true water aficionado looks beyond simple justifications such as ‘sachets work out cheaper in the long run’, ‘because the other water company funds the rebels’ or ‘it has less dirt and broken glass.’  No, the experienced EAW probably has an amusing anecdote about ‘that time we had a case of Cleanaqua and it totally protected us from a hail of bullets’ or ‘that time there was no running water on election day and I had to take a shower using just a 500ml bottle of Cristal.’

However, so far we’ve only looked at the EAWs who choose to buy their water and in doing so we’ve ignored the most hardcore group of all.  The expats who drink local tap water.  Drinking local tap water might seem like an unnecessary health risk to some greener EAWs, but in reality it provides an opportunity for an EAW to show how committed to the local population they are.  These hardcore aid workers feel that until the entire population can access free potable water, what’s a little amoebic dysentery between friends?  Conversations about local drinking water are also a good time for the less adventurous EAW to talk about the dire circumstances that led to them being forced to drink local water (with purification tablets of course) – this can include hotel sieges, getting lost in the jungle, or running out of money because a large grant proposal didn’t come through on time.  The higher-ranking EAW will always keep at least 50L of their favorite bottled water hidden away in a cupboard somewhere in case ‘the worst happens’.  ‘The worst’ can constitute anything from civil war to a shortage of their preferred brand.

EAWs also love to talk about how much water they’re drinking every day, and point out to non-EAWs that they aren’t drinking enough water.  Nothing leads to mockery in the EAW community faster than a rookie EAW who passes out from serious heatstroke during a 12hr jeep ride through the desert.  They clearly didn’t stock up on enough water after arriving in-country at the airport at 4am that morning.  EAWs also like to ask questions about the origins of all water that may have come into contact with any meal or beverage.  Are these ice cubes made from bottled water?  Could this salad be harboring typhoid?  Did the chef shower using bottled water today?

Bottled water also provides the resourceful EAW with an almost limitless supply of cheap building materials.  You can usually suss out how long an EAW has been in the field by how many items in their apartment are made out of discarded water bottles.  Empty water bottles can be used to create cups, ten-pin bowling pins and fashionable apparel.  The most popular EAWs will combine these multiple uses during subtly themed parties, in which all costumes must be made from recycled water-carrying paraphernalia and anyone seen drinking from an actual cup will face hours of derision and become the outcast of the party.

While seemingly mundane to the non-EAW, conversations about water are one of the best ways for EAWs to demonstrate field cred in a tough crowd.  The EAW can use just one short sentence to not only demonstrate a few career highlights but also unerring evidence of social and fiscal responsibility.  For example ‘I’m so glad we had ten bottles of Ala water that time our convoy got hit by an IED driving through Mosul.  We used it to wash broken glass out of our translators wound.  Sure, it didn’t taste as good as the water we bought in Kurdistan that was bottled by a local women’s collective, but it only cost us 25c a gallon.’

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 2, 2011 8:12 am

    I was always a Sipi man when I was in Uganda. Rwenzori fans made me furious.

  2. Lola McYu permalink
    December 2, 2011 12:31 pm

    “Empty water bottles can be used to create cups, ten-pin bowling pins and fashionable apparel.”

    Even houses:

    If only I’d collected all the wasted bottles at the Kampala Marathon last weekend, when hundreds of EAWs ran, gulped or threw bottled water over their heads while doing their bit for MTN’s CSR gig…

  3. December 8, 2011 6:18 am

    How about using a filter? Think of all the plastic you will save!

  4. katie permalink
    December 12, 2011 11:13 pm

    The only way this could be more accurate is to touch on the love of “nalgene” bottles with carabiners.

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