A doting aunt is willingly drawn into all sorts of chores. Everything I get to do for my four-year-old niece is a treat, I suppose, because I don’t have to be there 24/7.
So, while I was in Cape Town over the holidays, I helped out on toilet training.
As she jumped off the loo I said: “Okay, now flush.” “No,” she replied. “We don’t flush if it’s yellow. There isn’t much water.”
I had just arrived and hadn’t realised just how careful Capetonians were having to be.
Later I saw that, even in restaurants, the yellow rule applied. The daily temperatures were around the 21oC mark, with a delicious cooling breeze, so I wasn’t desperate for a swim.
My brother has never wanted a pool but now that he seems to be warming to the idea, it’s an impossibility. The papers said there were queues of hundreds at the Sea Point public swimming pool.
Driving down to the Cape we passed many army trucks along the way, delivering water to parched towns.
Beaufort West had run out of water but though there were signs in our B&B room asking us to conserve water, there were no other signs that the town was dry; the taps were running.
Our hosts did not harp on the subject: I can imagine their priority is that guests feel comfortable and have all they need so they keep coming back.
My brother has had a borehole for a while and the family are depending on it more.
My sister-in-law has taken to organic gardening at an unfortunate time because she has to get up early while it is cooler and carry watering cans to and fro to make sure the veggie patch is sufficiently soaked.
In December, adults were taking a short daily shower but Western Cape Premier Helen Zille recently asked them to reduce that to two a week and use a wash basin in between.
The baby’s bath water went on the garden.
I was relieved to get back to Gauteng’s thunderstorms, also because I felt a twinge of guilt every time I filled my water glass or took a shower while in the Mother City.
The extreme difficulties the Western Cape is experiencing – with Day Zero looming – remind me that I should not sit on my laurels and forget about saving water at home. Already, the bad old habits have been sneaking in.
When the City of Joburg first imposed water restrictions, I began putting a few thrifty measures in place.
Little things, like putting a bucket in the shower so the water is not wasted while it is warming up; using a glass when brushing my teeth; not using water from a running tap to clean things but rather putting water in the sink and scrubbing them.
Instead of running new water to wash my hands, I kept water in the bathroom basin to use a couple of times before pulling the plug out.
These actions may make little difference in the long run but they make me feel I am doing my bit and they allay my panic somewhat.
I know we live in a water-scarce country and the thought of a water war is terrifying. That will be a war only the bullies can win.
So I carry on saving all the drops I can.