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Diving With a Splash
by Muna Hamzeh-Muhaisen

It's that time of year again. The blazing hot sun and high temperatures of 35-degrees-Celsius, in the shade, are promising a long sweltering summer. The story is all too familiar for the Palestinians: Summer means lots of dust, a blinding bright sun, barely any refuge in the shade, and the same old problem of severe water shortages. Welcome to another summer in the Palestinian Territories!

To keep cool during those long sizzling days, when one has to think ten times before wasting precious water on a cold daily shower, I switch on the TV to an Israeli channel and impatiently wait for the commercial break. It finally arrives: a Coca-Cola commercial showing attractive, tanned and slim Israelis at the beach, sun bathing and splashing each other with a water hose. The deep blue Mediterranean water shimmers in the background, so enticing, and ever so inviting to a scorched Palestinian like me. The commercial lasts for 30 seconds and that's all the time I need not only to feel cool and refreshed, but also outraged. There is obviously no water shortage in the Holy Land; you just have to be on the other side of the Green Line to enjoy it.

I angrily turn off the TV, close my eyes, and pretend I'm surfing the waves. Fantasy is the only sane escape from a sordid reality. Suddenly the phone rings and rudely brings me back to the heat. It's a friend who lives three blocks up the hill and she's asking if we have any water. I tell her that the water has been cut off for three days.

"The water pressure was too low to reach the water reservoirs on our rooftop without using an electric water pump," I explain.

"Well, the water never reached us and none of the private water trucks I've called are willing to drive inside the refugee camp to sell us water," Hourieh complains. "They say our streets are too narrow and they're not willing to make the trip unless I pay them US $52."

This price is nearly triple the actual cost of the water but the private water providers know that people will pay because they must drink. They also make you pay for more water than you can store. If, for instance, you only have five water reservoirs on your rooftop, they'll bring you enough water for ten reservoirs, charge you for it and then drive away with the extras to sell it elsewhere. God forbid you suggest sharing the water with the neighbor!

So why don't our local authorities do something about this outrageous exploitation?

Well, they are doing something. Last summer, several local officials implored the public through the local press to file complaints against these money-mongers; but no legal, or any other, action has been taken to stop this annual exploitation of an already exhausted public. By the end of this summer, the same officials are likely to implore the public again. By doing so, they're sure to catch two birds with one stone: get their names in the papers, and appear to be taking action on an issue that concerns all segments of our society.

Meanwhile, my friend Hourieh paid the US $52 for her water and purchased an additional five water reservoirs for US $137 so as not to lose any of the water that she will now be forced to purchase till next winter. "I don't know whether to be more depressed because I have an endless pile of laundry to wash or to be depressed because US $189 out of my husband's US $500 monthly salary is already gone in a blink."

As it turned out, Hourieh complained all too soon. Ten days later, the water reservoirs on her roof were empty again. But she didn't really care because she had placed three of her new water reservoirs in the garden and could haul water in a bucket to do her housework.

"This is silly," retorted her husband Nabieh when he got home from work. "Why should you haul water all day when we can pump the water to the reservoirs on the roof."

Without wasting any time, Nabieh borrowed a water pump from a neighbor, a long hose from another and went to work.

"When I open the cover and place the hose inside, turn on the water," he shouted at his wife as he climbed nearly 2-meters to reach the top of the reservoir. But as soon as Nabieh spoke, he lost his balance and came crashing down on the concrete roof, breaking both his arms.

For three weeks now, and still another three weeks to go, Nabieh's arms will remain in a cast. He needs his wife's help to light a cigarette, drink water, eat and go to the toilet. But it is the darn heat that's killing him. Sitting around in 35 degree weather with the heavy weight of two casts is just too much to take. But he has to grin and bear it, especially that his house is always full of concerned friends and relatives who drop by to wish him a speedy recovery.

Dealing with the influx of visitors has drained Hourieh. She has had to cook meals for her guests, serve refreshments, clean house, take care of her three young kids, buy groceries, help Nabieh and then welcome everyone with a big smile.

But neither Nabieh nor Hourieh are smiling. In the first three weeks since his fall, they've spent nearly US $750 on medical expenses, food and beverages, and they've had to purchase more water and hire someone to fix their water reservoirs. Why? Because when Nabieh lost his balance and fell, he accidentally broke the pipe that connects the water reservoirs together.

With nothing else to do, Nabieh sits in front of the TV all day and keeps switching channels. It is summer time in Israel too and commercials showing Israelis splashing around at the beach and in swimming pools pop up on the screen every few minutes.

"Take us swimming daddy," blurts 5-year-old Alaa' who hasn't left Nabieh's side ever since he witnessed his nasty fall.

"Do you want to swim in a pool or in the sea?" asks Nabieh.

"Can you dive in the sea and do it with a splash?" wonders the boy.

"I don't know," smiles Nabieh. "I've never been swimming."

"That's O.K. daddy, I'll take you when I'm a man."