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Diary of a water shortage


Living in semi-developed countries can be an adventure, as Joshua Hartshorne found in the spring of 2004, in Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

Day 1: Monday, May 17


My downstairs neighbor, Jon, came by tonight to drop off some dishes he borrowed for his housewarming. I mentioned something about the hot water being off. He said, “Oh, up here, too? It’s been off since the morning. And a couple days ago it was the cold water that was off.

A bathroom without water

(We have different pipes for the hot and cold water, so they can be turned on and off separately.)

“Sometimes the power is off for a few hours, too,” I told him, being a helpful neighbor. That’s only happened twice (at least while I was home) since I moved in late last November. The water has been off maybe a half-dozen times, at least when I was trying to use it.

Day 2: Tuesday

Still no hot water. This is hard on me. A hot shower is an integral part of my morning routine, as important to me as coffee is to others. I feel groggy.

I start wondering if maybe the city turns off the hot water for the summer, just as my building has turned off the central heating. I ask the babushka/concierge. She tells me that they’re doing some sort of repairs, and it should be back on the next evening.

Day 3: Wednesday

We have never been so long without hot water.

At work, we discuss the water outage. It turns out everyone in my half of the city is without hot water, including my office (I hadn’t noticed). One girl, Olyona, smiles. “I have hot water.”

In the evening, I have dinner with Jon and Natasha. We discuss the water outage. “I can’t wash my hair,” says Jon, who has hair to the middle of his back. “I’m thinking of cutting it off.”

“You know, you can always boil some water,” Natasha points out. We all laugh.

Day 4: Thursday

Early in the morning, I gaze at the shower longingly.

Some people take cold showers. I don’t know if they take showers that cold. The running water is still only just over freezing. Spring just started.

When I lived in Petersburg, the hot water was often pinkish orange and smelly. This is true of both hot and cold water in my apartment in Irkutsk. However, in Irkutsk, it is only orange at first and after it runs a few seconds it becomes clear and stays that way. In Petersburg, at any moment in a shower, nasty water could come glopping out of the tubes. I stopped taking hot showers at home, even in the winter.

I have read about the shock of plunging into ice-cold water, but reading is one thing feeling is another. For that reason, I believe it mostly pointless to try to explain the sensation. It’s certainly not an enjoyable one.

I’m not ready to give in and shower cold, although I’m starting to feel a little gross.

A kitchen without water

That day I joke to Jon about boiling water. “Oh, I already broke down and did that,” he says.

When I came home in the evening, the babushka/concierge told me I needed to let the air out of something so that the hot water would start circulating. I thought she meant the water pipes. I turned on the hot water and, sure enough, hot water began to flow. I was very excited, but too busy to take a shower at the moment. I figured I’d wait until morning.

After a couple hours, there was a knock on my door. I didn’t recognize the person on the other side, but he had tools in hand, so I figured he was there about the water. He came in and turned a bolt on my towel warmer (all bathrooms in Irkutsk — maybe in Russia — have towel warmers) to let water out. He explained that this would help the water circulate. There isn’t any water to circulate now, but it will help when there is.

Day 5: Friday

By the time I woke up in the morning, water in the towel warmers must have started circulating, because the towel warmer was hot for the first time all week. This meant the laundry I had done the night before and hung on the towel warmer was dry. This was good.

The fact that there was no hot water in the tap (again), was not good.

When I came home in the evening, there was hot water in the tap again. I decide to take a shower before they have a chance to turn it off again.

The towel warmer, however, was cold again.

Late that night, I am using the Internet when my phone goes dead. No dial tone. An hour later, it is working again.

Day 6: Saturday

I have a long, luxurious shower in the morning, my second in 12 hours.

Strangely, the tower warmer is no longer warm. The hot water must have stopped circulating through that system. That night, they turn off the hot water again, but I don’t notice until…

Day 7: Sunday

I wake up, head for the shower, and find the hot water missing. Again.

I crawl back into bed. Some days it’s better to stay in bed.

Day 8: Monday

Still no hot water. I wash my hair with the help of the frigid cold tap.
When I get to work, I discover that they’ve turned on the hot water there (four blocks away).

Natasha points out that its worse when the cold water is off. Just as our cold water is cold like the deep reaches of Outer Space are cold, the hot water could be used to trigger nuclear fission.

Day 9: Tuesday

As Yenta the Matchmaker once said: We suffer. We suffer in silence.

Day 10: Wednesday

Poor Anya only has vodka to drink

I host a long-planned Going Away party for Gretta. Gretta, who lives a few blocks from me in the opposite direction of the office, has had her hot water for days.

Around midnight, the hot water comes on. I cannot wait to take a 2-hour shower, which I eventually do once all the guests are gone. This being a Russian party, the last guests do not leave until 8 in the morning, and that’s only because they have tests to take (its final exams season).

The Great Irkutsk Shower Shortage is over.

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