Writing for Watermy readers make a difference
2014 was the year we made a difference.
Along with fellow authors, Jerry Last, Norm Hamilton, and Sharon Lee Johnson, I donated a dollar for every Kindle book sold to water.org. Our goal was to provide 25 people safe and clean water for life.
We exceeded our own expectations and ended up with enough donations to give 31 people clean and safe water for life.
Read the wrap-up and lessons learned.
You can see how the year went by clicking on the monthly status updates. Also, read the kick-off press release: Independent Authors Team Up for Water.org
Even before I published my first book, I knew I wanted to use my writing to make a difference. Having traveled to many places where the basics are lacking, I knew that so many things hinge on access to water: health, education, nutrition, agriculture. The list goes on and on.
Water.org, the charity co-founded by Matt Damon, has an approach I admire. They work with local populations to find water access and sanitation solutions right for each community. Moreover, their Water Credit loan system allows the local community to become invested in and responsible for their new resources.
A Short Tale of Going Without Running Water
Along with two adventurous friends, I was shopping for pottery in San Juan del Oriente, a small town in Nicaragua. The place sits on a mountain of barro, or clay, and traditional pottery making and decoration is handed down from generation to generation. The church had gotten a whitewash since I’d been there last, but the town is a warren of curving streets and faded concrete houses—some of which were built by Spanish conquistadores and still have dirt floors.
But the simple exteriors belie the beauty within. Virtually every house on the main street has been turned into an impromptu art gallery, with crude shelves lined with beautifully painted pottery.
After three hours, during which we bought a carload of beautiful pieces, my morning coffee was a-talkin’. There’s no restaurant or public bathrooms in San Juan del Oriente, however. I asked the owner of the largest shop if she had one I could use. She looked sheepish and said they only had a latrine.
I wasn’t in a position to be choosy. We were at least an hour away from the big city. A latrine would be fine, I said.
The owner explained the situation in tight whispers to her teenaged daughter. The girl led me through the back of the house to a courtyard littered with the detritus of the pottery trade; broken pots, slabs of wood scored with hardened scraps of clay, grayish laundry flapping from twine. At least four cement shacks backed to the courtyard.
The girl made me wait while she found a new roll of toilet paper, shooed away two curious boys, and pulled aside a curtain made of a black plastic bag to reveal a cement cubicle the size of a shower stall. The latrine. The latrine shared by the residents of all four homes.
I stepped inside, clutching the toilet paper. The curtain fell back into place and I was in utter darkness.
Just me and the smell of raw sewage.
Now, if you ever find yourself in this situation, sequencing becomes of the utmost importance. Get things in the wrong order and things can go seriously wrong.
First, loop your purse around your neck, Sherpa-style. It is not recommended to attempt to use a latrine in the dark while also trying to keep a purse handle on your shoulder.
Second, tuck the roll of toilet paper under your chin. You will need both hands to adjust clothing and ensure that no fabric touches the ground at any time during the procedure.
Third, keep in mind that there is no running water. Don’t expect to wash your hands.
I’d like to say that was the first and only time I’ve encountered a latrine in my travels. But sadly, no. As a mystery author, I’ve drawn inspiration from years living in Mexico and Central America, as well as my travels in East Africa and the South Pacific. I’ve met amazing people, learned about different cultures . . . and seen too many communities without running water or decent sanitation.
So in a small way, I’m trying to do something about it.