People in New York are outraged over something to do with electricity. Yawn. My wife used to study English by candlelight. Her brother used to carry a barrel of water up six flights of stairs so the family could wash and bathe. They didn’t have electricity to operate the building’s water pump… for months. Not to play the suffering contest game, but living in Kutaisi for a few months has taught me to expect power outages and water outages from time to time. We just roll with it, and we’re glad it isn’t 2003.
My birthday officially began about two hours ago. I mark my birthday starting from midnight on the third, wherever I am, which means I shifted my birthday with the time zone I’m in even though I wasn’t born until 10pm on the third in New York, which is 30 hours after midnight on the third in Georgia. I am not drinking alcohol this birthday because I have a baby in the house who just turned 15 days old and that’s not an appropriate drinking environment. I joked that I’m celebrating my birthday this year with a nice tall glass of second-world tap water.
Yes, I’m drinking Kutaisi tap water right now. It didn’t come directly from the tap, of course, because it’s 2am and the water isn’t on. I’d like to remind my readers now that water is turned on in Kutaisi daily at around eight in the morning and turned off at about one in the afternoon – just about five hours of water a day. We fill up old Nabeghlavi bottles with tap water to drink, and we have a cistern that we fill with water to wash our hands and flush the toilet, and a hot water heater that we fill and a bucket in the kitchen that we fill, all this filling and storing and fussing, just for water – something that I took completely for granted for most of thirty years.
I take it for granted now, honestly – it’s just an extra step in my day. Wake up, make my coffee (with day-old stored water), wait for the water to come on, turn off the valve that feeds the tap from the cistern, turn on the valve that feeds the tap from the building pump, take a shower, turn on the valve that refills the cistern from the building pump, listen for the sound of water spilling out of the cistern overflow pipe, turn off the valve that refills the cistern from the building pump… my first few months here, my mother-in-law mostly handled these duties, but now there’s school and I wake up the earliest so I mostly do them, but now the baby wakes up earliest so sometimes my wife does them when she gets up to feed the baby. Some days the water doesn’t come and sometimes I have to buy extra drinking water because we didn’t store enough for two days, so now we try to store enough for two days. But still, we consider ourselves lucky because the tap water is clean enough to drink. That isn’t the case everywhere and bottled water isn’t so cheap.
It’s a little strange to me that I consider myself so lucky – that I am so satisfied with my life – and yet I have five hours of water a day. There are days when the power goes out – it’s usually back by evening, but sometimes it takes until the next afternoon, and once it was out for most of the weekend. When the power doesn’t go out I’m happy, and when it does I remind myself that having a netbook with eight hours of battery life is a privilege and that most people in my neighborhood are sitting in increasingly dark rooms while I’m watching TV shows or catching up on my reading.
Tomorrow I am going to make myself chicken cooked in butter, garlic, onion, cayenne pepper, and mustard. It is going to be delicious. I might involve mashed potatoes in the equation as well. My wife is getting me a cake from this amazing cake shop in Kutaisi. I will miss American boxed cakes – not because they’re better than the amazing cake shop cakes, but because they’re what I grew up with – and I will probably reflect on being far from my family and where I grew up – but honestly the strangest thing to me about living in Kutaisi is living so far off the ground. I’ve never lived on the seventh floor before and it’s kind of surreal to think of all those floors below me.
Last year at this time I was anxious about turning 30. The big three oh, we call it. I would never have guessed that year 30 would be the best one so far. I couldn’t have imagined that in only a year’s time I would have the best birthday present ever – an adorable little baby boy who is happy and healthy and adorable. I wouldn’t have guessed that another year of experience would make me a much better teacher than I was last year, or that another year of experience wouldn’t improve my Georgian very much. 30 has been a wild ride. I got my first grey hair, but I guess I don’t mind. I guess the best part about being 30 is that turning 31 isn’t such a big deal. It’s almost a relief. I made it through 30, and now it’s smooth sailing until 40. No major birthday events in sight.
I am 31 years old, and I have water, I have power, and I have a family. What else could I ask for?