Lent 2016: Surviving a cold-water weekend


Proscovia washes her hands in clean water (Credit: David Mutua)

CAFOD’s Mark Chamberlain gave up hot water, heat, light and hot food for a week during Lent. Here he writes about some things he learned after a weekend without the basics.

So, I survived a weekend of no hot water and other things I would normally consider essential (heat, light, warmth). I say ‘survived’, what I’ve found is that despite being very difficult, this challenge is really teaching me things about my life choices. And I’m also starting to understand a minuscule amount of what things might be like for some women and men around the world who have to face the effects of water poverty every day.

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I didn’t think I’d be writing about ‘things I like’, but I am actually enjoying parts of it. So here are some things after a weekend without, that I actually like:

  1. Cold showers. They’re incredible – trust me! Ditch your coffee in the morning and turn off your hot tap. Have a cold shower! Shouting is intentional here as I’m a convert. They wake you up and put you in a great mood. Also, they use less water because there’s no way you want to spend very long under them.
  2. The simplicity. I have the luxury of simplicity, whereas Proscovia doesn’t. But I am grateful for this and I’m starting to enjoy it.
  3. The sun. Without heat, the sun really counts. I watch now for if it’s warm outside and jump in the sections of pavement where the heat is.
  4. The sky at night. Without a television or the internet, I just watch the sky for entertainment. The slow path of the moon may not be as exciting as watching someone lose their teeth on Total Wipeout, but I’m enjoying it a lot. I have no idea about the names of constellations, so I’m making my own up.
  5. Not having a mobile phone, internet or general connectivity. I love having this time to think. It’s a wonderful thing. Without all these distractions, I’m paying more attention to people and the world around me. It might be trite saying this, but I’m seeing how many things really are just a distraction in my life.
  6. Enjoying the small things. I’ve realised how lucky I am to be able to walk in the city, to be able to buy fruit and vegetables when I’m hungry and to be able to wake up and just taking a walk for leisure as opposed to necessity.
  7. Writing letters. It’s a real art form. The day before I went off-the-grid so to speak, I sent an invite to friends on Facebook – if they sent me their address, I would write to them. So I did. As texts are different to email, so is the letter. I’ve been churning letters to friends and have really enjoyed it. Whether they like them is another matter.
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    Unlike me, these goats in Proscovia’s home aren’t enjoying a cold shower (Credit: David Mutua)

    Getting up early. I don’t have an alarm clock and I don’t want to waste the daylight, so I get up early to get things done.

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What I’ve learned so far:

  1. I wake when the sun rises and sleep an hour or two after the sun sets. My body has adapted quickly. The daylight is precious for getting things done. Once it gets dark, it’s difficult to cook and clean. I sit for a while in the dark and after maybe two hours, I’m tired.
  2. This cold is a reality for people in places that have a winter right now. While I washed my clothes in cold water at the weekend, I won’t have to next week. They will. I could feel how icy the water was to wash my shirts, it immediately made me think of the families I met in the Bekaa Valley and how they were living through winter right now.
  3. I’m way too reliant on my mobile. As much as I have a love-hate relationship with it, I find that I’m more in love with it than I like. I found myself the other day sitting down after a wash considering checking my messages. I couldn’t. I’m now glad.
  4. I have to arrange to meet friends long in advance. It’s strange, but I have to say, ‘Let’s meet Saturday at 1pm under the clock’ and stick to it. There’s no cancelling and no lateness. I have to be on time. This would be the case for people in Uganda and around the world who might have mobile phones, but don’t have the money to power them because they have used the time when they might earn money to fetch water.
  5. I’ve learned and reminded myself that this life of water issues is temporary. It is permanent for so many around the world. And the water issues people face around the world are varied and life-threatening. Mine are a measured choice.
  6. Raw food is interesting. You have to work hard to make it something to look forward to. I have developed what I would say is a ‘nice’, not a delicious, courgette spaghetti recipe. I can’t use blenders and the like, so I can’t enjoy some of those really delicious raw-food recipes on the internet. Nuts, avocadoes and lupini beans that I discovered in a local shop are my very good friends.
  7. Perhaps something I didn’t expect is, however hard this challenge is – and it’s hard –I’m actually enjoying it. I’m learning so much and life is different, but I really appreciate many things I hadn’t before.

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2 thoughts on “Lent 2016: Surviving a cold-water weekend”

  1. Congratulations on completing your challenge, Mark. I read your blog with interest. I lived in Ethiopia for a year with VSO and was challenged in similar ways. I ended up carrying water home when the weather got hotter and the supply stopped.
    Returning home to the UK where there was a running tap, hot shower and stable electricity was very luxurious.
    Keep up the good work!

    1. Wow, that sounds much harder than what I did. How did you plan for things like that happening? Did you plan? Did collecting water have an impact on your work?

      Did you work out a system for water shortages – that is, did you work out a priority list for your rationed water? Such as drinking first, cooking second, washing third?

      Thank you for reading and responding, Patricia! I’m grateful of the warmer weather now and being able to cook food!

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