Water, as one the basic elements of life, is often something we take for granted in America. We love our bottled water, and look at faucets as magical supplies of unlimited amounts. Or at least I tend to do, anyway. I brush my teeth without thinking twice about it, and take a shower for as long as I feel necessary. Coming to Panama, I’ve come to interact with H2O completely differently. For a country that is partly defined by the body of water that runs through it, agua plays a much greater role beyond the eponymous canal.
For one thing, it rains. A lot. Almost every day at 1. It’s bad enough for unprepared Americans who don’t have the right protection. It’s worse for a film a crew with lots of expensive camera equipment. We thought it was bad the first day… Then it kept happening every day. At one point, you just come to accept it as another part of Panamanian life.
We’ve also been told that the tap water isn’t particularly healthy for us here. When I go to brush my teeth, I make a special effort not to accidentally swallow any of the water. I know the girls go as far as to use bottled water exclusively. And then when we go to the villages, we see people bathing in the rivers, and no doubt drinking that natural water. They don’t even consider that the water isn’t “purified” or “clean.” Agua is agua, and they are happy to have it.
Back in our villas, taking a shower is a daily challenge. Not because I’m lazy or anything, but because the water is freezing. I wash one limb at a time to avoid complete submersion into the icy waters. At home, I’d just turn the shower on, wait for it to warm up and go in, enjoying the steam and warmth. Such a luxury is probably not something the indigenous people of Panama get to experience often. Maybe when I get nostalgic for Panama, I’ll turn on the cold water at home.
Then there are the floods. We were planning to visit a Kuna reservation, but were prevented because the route had been flooded by the abundance of recent rain. I think we’re planning to a boat on Wednesday. Beyond the personal ramifications of the floods, they have had an even greater effect on Panama City. The surge in water has caused the entire city to lose its water system for a few days. This means no faucets, toilets, showers, washing dishes – parts of daily life that are just not possible right now. Maybe the indigenous people have the right idea…they seem to have more water than they know what to do with right now.