Friday, June 6, 2014

The Day My Third World Self Put My First World Self In Its Place

I was washing a few dishes and enjoying the cold water gushing out from our faucet when from out of the blue, I was reminded of those years in the Philippines when we had a water crisis and some form of water rationing was done in most urban areas. I don't know why I had the thought, but I was suddenly reminded of those days when I would turn on the faucet and nothing would come out of it.  

So then I thought to myself, "Oh, I'm using too much water; better turn the faucet down and save some water!

Well, lo and behold.  With the thought still in my head and the internal conversation barely finished, I suddenly noticed the water pressure get weaker and weaker, until the 'flow' turned into 'drips'.  

And then...Nothing.  No more water.  WTF?!!

I thought I was imagining it.  Or worse, I thought my psychic powers had grown into X-Files proportions and that my thought was truly manifesting right before my eyes!  Did my thought process cause this??!! 

Image by:  Valerie Everett

Well, rationality kicked in and I thought there had to be a perfectly logical explanation for what was going on.  

My first thought?  "Hmm, let me go on Facebook!"  No, I didn't seek a distraction for this water problem.  I just figured that whatever was going on, my neighbors must already be on to it.  You see, our subdivision has a Facebook page and for better or for worse, there are a lot of overactive, 'omniscient' people on there, if you know what I mean. True enough, there were already close to ten people who posted that they, too, didn't have water in their homes, with the bonus explanation that the water main was hit by a construction that was going on nearby.

What I found so interesting about this whole experience was that it highlighted how 'dichotomized' my identity has truly become.  There was a part of me, that part that has become American --- spoiled by the conveniences offered by a First World country --- that really panicked and felt lost.  And then there's the genuinely Filipino side that has experienced this multiple times and has learned to cope with other Third World 'inconveniences' or 'inefficiencies'.  As Americans, we take for granted that when we turn our faucets on, water will come out at a decent pressure.  When I was living in the Philippines, we always had some form of back-up, whether that meant having a huge overhead water tank in our own backyard that can deliver water through our pipes in case the water company shuts things down; or just having pails filled with water inside the bathrooms.  It's also common for households to have huge water storage barrels or drums and it's not necessarily for apocalyptic scenarios (as what a First World resident would think), but just to be prepared for something that happens much too often, either because of drought or the usual infrastructure issues and inadequacies a Third World resident knows all too well, unfortunately.

To be honest, I was glad that I didn't have to bust out my 'Third World savvy' side because about an hour later, things went back to normal.  Water was flowing once again, and other than the murkiness and sediment-laden initial flow, there really wasn't much to whine about.  Just when I was beginning to think of ways to cope with this 'mini-crisis', figuring out how or where to get water and save what we have in case it lasted long, my husband reminded me that the scenario I was imagining would never happen.  This is the U.S.A after all, and spoiled people can't be inconvenienced, unless service providers want non-stop whining and lawsuits galore.  

However, as odd as this might sound, I was proud and comforted by the fact that I am a child of the Third World and that I know I have a bit more resilience, and possibly, more creative problem-solving skills than a typical First World citizen when it comes to dealing with such 'crises'.  I know I can endure more and that there are more serious things to be concerned about.  I hope I can instill this resilience, this 'Filipino-ness', in my son, who is obviously growing up with a First World sense of entitlement; getting so accustomed to a life filled with conveniences and trivial First World problems such as having weak / slow internet connection. Or feeling hot inside the house because the thermostat is set to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.  Oh puhleeeez!...Give me a break!  You think that's hot??!!

I think it's time to give him a long overdue lecture on how Mommy survived much of her youth without any internet or even a land line, and was also able to preserve her sanity through HOT days and / or nights during prolonged power outages.  I hope he realizes how fortunate he is and how much he should be truly grateful for.  This Third World-bred gal simply has no patience for First World whining.      


  1. As I sit in my 82-degree air conditioned house, I am nodding my head in agreement. I took our then-10-yr-old youngest daughter and the hubs to the Philippines precisely to bring them face-to-face with Third World reality and my past. Asked our girl, "Why do people live in cardboard boxes by the freeway? Why do all of your friends and family live in nice houses?" A great opportunity to make an observation on inequity in the world, on privilege, lucky circumstances, doing well in school and working hard. Has your son visited?

    We are indeed more resilient than most who were born here. I used to remind my husband when we were newlyweds, when he fretted about making ends meet, how in high school as a member of a civic club, I would visit families living in leaky thatched huts on the banks of the Pasig river. "We are nowhere near that dire," I told him. First World whining nipped in the bud.

    1. I like that -- "FW whining nipped in the bud". Great job, Cookie! And yes, we've taken Noah to Manila back in 2008 but he was less than a year old so I think that doesn't really count. We have been planning for forever to go back again, now that he is more 'aware' and could enjoy the experience more. However, we go through a sticker shock every time we see how much the airfare would cost. We need more time to save *sigh* Thanks again for your thoughts, Cookie!

  2. We are indeed fortunate here. Your story reminded me of days without water in Mexico City when we'd fill buckets and bathtubs and sinks, and the whoops of joy when the faucet started dripping. Currently, droughts are lowering reserves and threatening water supply in California and parts of the Southwest. In the next century, water will become the most valuable commodity in the world. Water rationing and shortages are a probability. So you are right about giving your son that lecture because water may become scarce in his lifetime.

  3. I think back to how simple my childhood was, and what my grandkids have available to them and just shake my head. They have never experienced it, so they have no idea. I would love to see them spend a week without the technology.

    I live in a rural area now, and have poor water pressure. Years ago my mother visited, when the pressure was even worse (you could not run water anywhere in the house and take a shower at the same time). She wrote the water works when she got back to California complaining about MY water pressure and what a pitiful service they provided. Needless to say, the pressure didn't change until years later, when they laid new mains. But we all laughed and mother felt vindicated. :)

  4. Hear! Hear! I think everyone should have a character ingenuity building Third World experience at least once in their lives.

  5. Here in Calif we are in serious drought and have to conserve. I think it's smart to realize our resources are limited.

  6. Joy this is just wonderful! Thank you so much for reminding me that life is very good and that we are indeed so fortunate to be living a country where for so many of us, there is plenty and our biggest crisis is that the the water isn't working properly for an hour or two. It is so easy for me to take all I have for granted, forgetting that for so many, even people living in my country, are not as fortunate.

  7. I've caught myself FW whining and think: at least I know I'm doing it. I think most of us have an awareness of our luck and fortune but a direct comparison would do a lot of people a lot of good..


Let me know your thoughts!