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"Water in Clay Jars"

Author: Jun dela Rosa

Publisher: The Philippine Inquirer, Mla., P.I.
Published: December 5, 1998

IN GAPAN Nueva Ecija, when I was growing up, the drinking water was kept cold, clear and clean in ash-colored clay jars. Lola took pride in showing our visitors from Manila the clay jars arranged side by side on the tiled banggera. They were her prized collection, inherited from her old grandparents. I once hoped she would eventually hand them down to me.

The water in these jars remained as potable as cold and as clear as the time we got it from the artesian well, a few paces away from where Lola and I lived. We had no need for a refrigerator or ice. Neither did we have to source water from the local equivalent of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System. Most of the visitors who stayed for a few days would tell us how much they liked the water. Many of them would actually request that they be given a few bottles to bring back to the city and Lola would gladly oblige. Lola called it magic. I called it Lola's love. When Lola died, I had to go to the city to study. I lived with my parents in Novaliches, Quezon City, when the place still looked rural and very much like Gapan except for its being nearer to "civilization."

Once Mama went to the MWSS to apply for a water connection. The nearest water pump was a tricycle-ride away and the water coming out of it was not potable. Mama had to boil the water to make it safe for drinking, especially after one of my sisters was downed by cholera and almost died.

It didn't take very long for me to miss the taste and texture of the water in the province, the kind that Lola used to bring out of the dirty kitchen, pour into glasses and serve to her visitors from Manila. In Novaliches, the water pressure was still strong, but that was the least of my concern. There was something artificial about the water we got from the MWSS. It left an unpleasant after-taste in my tongue that I had to get rid of by letting strawberry candies melt in my mouth.

Taking a bath was fun, though. There was a shower in the bathroom, and it felt like bathing in the rain, minus the paper boats. I could have made paper boats and let them float on the tiled floor, but there was nowhere else they could go except down the drain.

There was another difference. The water from the shower was lukewarm, while rainwater was cold and helps heal prickly heat particularly on warm nights. The water from the shower also dried my skin making it flaky. In the mornings, Mama had to rub lotion or coconut oil on my skin to keep it soft.

Then as Novaliches started to become urbanized, water became progressively scarce. I noticed that there was an indirect proportion between population growth and the supply of water. Pretty soon, there was no water-only faucets that gave out sounds like those made by someone who was thirsty or someone trying to catch his breath. I could not use the shower anymore, because the pressure was not enough. We had to use plastic dippers when taking a bath so as not to waste water which we stored in pails of different colors.

It reminded me of the time I still lived in Gapan with Lola when I would just go to the river to take a bath. I would form my hands into small cups to wet my face in the summer when rain was scarce. But the water that tasted of chlorine water would reach my lips and bring me back to the present.

Now, the situation is even worse. There is absolutely no water, not even a single drop, coming out of the faucet in the daytime, at least in the part of Novaliches where we live. The situation is increasingly becoming unbearable. Our bathroom remains soiled, the toilet bowl has turned yellowish and stinks. Water starts to drip in the wee hours of the morning, and Mama has to wake up, her eyes sagging and beginning to form black folds, just to make sure we gather enough water to last a day. In the morning when I wake up, pails and containers line the bathroom.

The plastic water jugs standing close to the wash basin remind me somehow of Lola's clay juts arranged side by side on the banggera. The difference is that Lola took pride in showing the jars and pouring the crystal-clear water into drinking glasses, while Mama's plastic water jugs are nothing but an annoyance, making our kitchen look cluttered and crowded.

I wonder if we could return to the time when jars worked their magic to keep our drinking water refreshingly cold. There is a touch of artificiality in storing water in plastic jugs. The water in these jugs does not remain cold and leaves an after-taste that I cannot get rid of by melting strawberry candies in my mouth. I am too old for candies now. To me it would be an exciting sight to have clay jars standing near the wash basin in every home.

Maybe I am too conventional. Maybe I am too promdi. But the idea of going back to the time my Lola was still alive is very appealing to me. Storing our drinking water in clay jars would be cheaper since we won't need to refrigerate it. Besides it would open a window to our past when life was simple and pleasant.

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 Last modified: 05/20/09