I’ve been home from Zambia for four and a half weeks.
Despite preparing myself for the reverse culture shock I knew was coming my way, it hit me hard and the first week was difficult to readjust. I felt like a visitor at home.
But the strangest moment was when I first walked up to the kitchen sink, turned the tap and out poured water. Beautiful, clean running water.
It felt unnatural which was surprising since it’s something most of us do mindlessly on a daily basis.
Over the previous three months, I had been living in a mud hut in rural Zambia.
The Kafalulu village community comprised of large family settlements, a market square selling local produce and a joint primary and secondary school spread throughout thick, luscious bush.
The villagers were enormously friendly and full of smiles and the teachers were incredibly inspiring. So full of passion for what they did and so attentive to the pupils’ needs.
Their lives were hard. Many of them had never come across a sink in their lifetime.
Instead, they would brush their teeth standing in the yard with a plastic cup in hand to spit in. Clothes and plates were washed in plastic buckets and the dirty water was poured onto the ground at the end of each day.
When you spend a prolonged period of time living in such basic conditions, you are able to identify more clearly the things that are essential to our daily lives. When those essential things are not readily available, you are able to understand just how heavily we depend upon them and just how much we take them for granted.
Every morning I would wake up with the sun and the cockerel at 5.45am.
The family I lived with would already be sweeping the yard.
I was lucky. They were considered one of the wealthiest households in the community since they’d had solar electricity installed a few months before I arrived.
The television set was broken but we got to charge our phones in the house and there was a radio that played everything from afro beats to country and western to Westlife. They loved Westlife.
Mornings were hard work because there was no running water in most of the district and I quickly realised just how many things we needed it for.
Regardless of where we come from, we all rely on clean water to undertake a similar series of morning tasks: Bathing, teeth brushing, washing the plates from the night before and – if you are anything like me – boiling water for coffee.
In Kafalulu, our nearest water supply came from a well at the schoolyard which was a fifteen-minute walk from the house.
We would wheel our bicycles to the pump and draw as many litres as we could tie to the back of it before we could relax into the morning.
It felt so unfair when I returned home how drastically easier my morning routine became because I had unlimited access to the stuff through no personal merit of my own.
I’ve always been careful not to waste water – I turn off the tap while brushing my teeth, I drink what I pour – but the time I spent in Zambia has given me an overwhelming new feeling of appreciation for it that is yet to wear off.