Don't Drink the Water

We knew before we got to Yekaterinburg that the water wasn't safe to drink. Each of the diplomatic residences here is outfitted with a distiller in the kitchen, which is actually a very handy thing to have. Jack can take his little cup, walk over to the distiller, and pour himself some water. (On the other hand, if he ever gets tall enough to touch the side of it, he's probably going to burn his hand off. But, you know, other than that...)

Still, I wasn't expecting the water here to be brown. Or to smell like raw sewage (or dog, according to John). Or to contain heavy metals. Or cholera. (Did I mention they found cholera in the reservoir here?) You probably recall Jack's health scare a few months ago, the skin infection that may have been the "very serious disease" known as chickenpox. After that (and once I realized my hair was starting to take on a distinctly straw-like texture thanks to the high chlorine content) we ordered a filter for the bathtub, the shower, and the kitchen sink. But a kitchen sink filter is kind of a pain in the butt when you're doing dishes, considering you can't run hot water through it and it severely limits the water flow. Sometimes I don't feel like washing dishes under a trickle of cold water okay? I have other things to do occasionally, like take care of my child, or eat.

When you're in a lonely outpost at the edge of Siberia (yes, this is a major city with 1.5 million people, but we have 7 officers at post compared to 300 in Moscow), people sort of forget about you. They tell you to make sure you wash your hands thoroughly, apparently failing to take into consideration that the thing you're trying to protect yourself from is the very thing they're telling you to dip your hands into. I know this isn't India or Africa, and we're unlikely to get dysentery or contract some terrible antibiotic-resistant waterborne parasite. But I also don't think it's okay to tell families, "Hey, you're getting X% hardship. Use bottled water and quit your yapping."

Then I talked to my new CLO friend in Calcutta, who has had to deal with multiple evacuations of late, and also has nothing but a single kitchen distiller to separate herself and her family from the local water, and I remembered that this is all relative. There's always going to be somewhere worse, someplace more dangerous, another city with grosser water (although my nose is fairly convinced otherwise). And hey, at least I don't have to pay for this crap - apparently they're raising the cost of water for local residents. It's even become something of a joke in our weekly staff meetings for the CG to ask our newest member what the number one rule in Yekat is. "Don't drink the water!" he says with a smile, and we all laugh, because you'd have to be blind - and nostril-less - to take a swig.

For now, I'll try not to grumble too much as I wash my cheesy lasagna platter in a thin stream of ice-cold cholera-free water. But come Christmas, I'm going to drink the delicious Montana well water like it's champagne. Oh, and the garbage disposal? I'm going to use the heck out of that baby.

Just because I can.


  1. Hi, Just found your blog and I love it. We are posted in Brussels and we were in Manila before this. We have potable water in Belgium and after Manila I drank it like it was from the gods. The locals don't drink it though, it is so full of calcium that all of my kid's bath toys are coated in a calcium crust, unbelievable. So I've gotten used to fizzy water.

    Good luck on the new job and the new post and winter. Just think once you get to December 21st it just gets better, either that or the world ends that day.

    Feel free to check me out if you ever want:



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