[OPINION] Dreaming of water: Thoughts on Metro Manila’s water crisis

Maria Pia F. Luque
[OPINION] Dreaming of water: Thoughts on Metro Manila’s water crisis
'I can live without a man, but I cannot live without water'

Manang’s face was turning bright red, a shade that perfectly matched the full pail of water I was heaving with me in the market. Tired and famished, I had not bothered to ask about prices when I ate at her carinderia, and now she was demanding an unreasonable 200 pesos for a small plate of fish and rice. I refused to capitulate. Soon we would come to blows. As onlookers crowded around us, I knew I could not run off without spilling the precious water in my pail. To escape, should I leave the pail behind or throw the water out?

Before I could decide, the sound of running water woke me. It was 3 in the morning; turns out it was just a bad dream. Half asleep, I got up, trudged to the bathroom and turned off the faucet as water pooled on the floor. My anxiety subsided, and happiness washed over me (water pun intended).

It will be Valentine’s Day soon and almost a year since rotational water service interruptions began in Metro Manila. It is hard to feel love when life has not been the same since March, when water vanished from our apartment building. I quickly learned to eat different meals from the same unwashed plate, cram my refrigerator with dirty pots and utensils, wash my hands over an unflushed toilet, and bathe with 3 dips of a tabo. It is a blessing I live alone, without anyone to complain about my utter lack of propriety.  

At night, I go to bed grimy after skipping my typical evening shower. I leave the faucets turned slightly, with hope and a prayer that water would finally come. My fellow tenants and I, once strangers but now bonded over a common misery, would share great news by texting “May tubiggg naaa!” (punctuated by happy emoticons), or advice not to come home just yet, because “#$@&% Wala pa rin tubig!”

If there was merely a trickle, we still deemed it good, despite the hours it took to fill a pail. If water flowed from the outdoor faucet installed by our kind landlord, we would lug basins, pails, and jugs to our third-floor studios.  

Filipinos take pride in being among the most resilient people on earth. We surmount natural disasters on a regular basis, yet it is difficult to be strong when we cannot even enjoy basic services. Most of us will never own homes or fancy cars, but we will certainly lead long, happy, and productive lives as long as we have sufficient water.

With the water shortage causing relentless stress, images of water soon invaded my dreams. Once, I was transported back to a beach I had not visited since childhood, helpless and upset as swirling water formed a sea devoid of waves and of life.

Even memories of past loves lacked that power to intrude my subconscious, though somehow this crisis feels a bit like falling in love. I do not just dream of water. I think about it all the time. Its unexpected arrival brings me joy and its sudden departure fills me with constant dread. Alone or with company, I am restless. I worry about whether I would be/have enough – water crucial for cooking, eating, drinking, surviving. At restaurants, I ask for take-home water in my 1-liter tumbler. It embarrasses a friend, but my desperation knows no shame. I can live without a man, but I cannot live without water. 

Indeed, water is both a resource and a necessity. This echoes a quote repeatedly shared online: “Once you carry your own water, you will learn the value of every drop.” 

In a time of uncertainty, while we rush to wash clothes at ungodly hours and keep saving grey water from baths and laundry, we unite in resilience and cling to a pipe dream that all will be well soon. With the shortage affecting all sectors of society, water has turned out to be the great leveler. If this is a test of patience and creativity, we all deserve top scores. Plus, our throats may be parched but the ground remains fertile for rich Filipino humor, a manifestation of our much vaunted resilience. 

Paasa much,” a younger colleague jokes about a water concessionaire’s distribution schedules, which end up as broken promises.  

“It’s not you, it’s them! It’s complicated,” I counter with a laugh. – Rappler.com

Maria Pia F. Luque teaches English at a private school. She is among the writers in the anthology Savor the Word, hailed Best Book of Leisure at the 32nd National Book Awards. While backpacking in Tokyo last summer, she relished strong showers at the hostel and safe drinking water from every tap.

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