The True Cost of Clean Water

We usually pay about $50 a month for water. For that fifty dollars we get to take showers or turn on the faucet to get some clean water to drink. Sometimes I water our little vegetable garden. We clean our clothes and make ice. Seems like a really good deal to me.

Our water bill went up a lot in one month, a ridiculous amount in fact. So, i did some checking and sure enough we had a water leak in the pipe that feeds our house. I poked around a bit in the yard and started digging. Our house is 80 years old, so I was not particularly surprised to find an old rusty steel pipe leaking water.

Only one thing to do: call a plumber. We decided to just replace the whole pipe instead of trying to patch it.

A few days later they replaced the pipe. It took a whole day, 4 people working at various times, 2 really expensive pieces of equipment (a mini trackhoe and directional boring machine), 3 shovels, a blowtorch, two pex expanders, a copper pipe cutter, a bucket, concrete, a masonry drill, 2 pex cutters, 3 vans, 2 trailers, and miscellaneous parts. Oh, and a city inspector. All that just to put in a little bit of pipe that ran 50 or 60 feet. It cost me $2100. On a side note, we worked with Mullin Plumbing on this, the guys that were out working let me just sort of hang out with them all day while they worked, I learned a lot and they did a good job, and got it done quickly. I have no idea if that was a good price, but it seemed worth it to be done quickly and well.

This one little job of replacing a small pipe points to a huge infrastructure that we have to provide clean water. I live in Tulsa, a small city with a population of 400,000 people (the metro area is 900,000). Tulsa water treatment plants treat 100 millions gallons of water on an average day. Tulsa’s water system has capacity to treat 220 million gallons per day. Yellow pages lists 430 plumbing companies in the city. The city water department changes out 16,000 water meters a year.

All this infrastructure is kind of expensive. In fiscal year 2014 the City of Tulsa $15,425,000 on water system capital projects. The operating budget for providing water to the city was $112,040,000. That $15,000,000 in capital expenditures were not for big projects. Replacing or relocating water mains and facility improvements are the biggest things on the list.

Big water projects cost a lot of money. Chelssa, MI recently built a water treatment plant that treats .85 million gallons a day for $4,600,000. It would take 117 such plants to supply Tulsa with water on an average day. That is $538,200,000 just to build the plants. Keep in mind that this is Tulsa, a small city (the 45th largest city in the United States). New York City is in the middle of a $6 billion water project which started in 1970 and will not be done until 2020. Twenty three people have died working on the project. This country makes massive investments in water infrastructure, and arguably it is still not enough.

Our investment in water is more than a financial system. We have a culture that values and invests in clean water. When our water pipe broke it did not even cross our mind to not fix it. We did not decide to just go get water from the neighbors. We could have saved some money by just putting a faucet in the yard right next to the water meter and just carrying water into the house every now and then, but we did not consider that ether. In fact in some cities a house will be condemned if it does not have running water. Across the country the vast majority of houses have full plumbing and running water, although not all. Many households without water are from low income or minority groups. Im sure there are a few hippie off the grid types as well

We don’t have a constitutional right to clean water, but we do have an expectation of access to clean water. Tulsa’s water system is run by the city. Some cities have water systems which have been privatized. However, outside of rural settings there are few municipalities that don’t have some provision for providing water to it’s residents. Imagine if one day Tulsa announced that the water system would be shut down, and there was no private industry to take over . Everybody was on their own to find water. In time the market would produce some solution, but imagine the impact, Tulsa would cease to exist in its current form.

A hundred years of investment in infrastructure, culture, regulations, and expectations all come together so that I can pay $50 a month for all the clean water I can possible use, and when one old pipe broke I had massive resources to call on to fix it quickly. We didn’t even miss a shower.

 

 

 

 

 

Ten years!

We’ve been married for 10 years today.

Ten years!

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We’ve had an incredibly blessed 10 years. Lots of adventures, lots of friendships, lots of love from our families. Very little hardship.

We’ve lived in campus housing that was so close to the radio station that anytime someone called our land line before 5pm, the AM radio station coming over the phone was louder than our conversation.

We’ve lived among a community tucked back in the woods where we learned to be married. And we were loved on so well there.

We’ve lived in the heart of the city and are part of a community that loves us so well. To the extent that they know just how much a gift like this speaks to our hearts.

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We’ve spent time in the mountains of Colorado, walking along the cobblestone streets of Europe, experienced the joy in a Ugandan smile.

We have many adventures ahead, and though we don’t know what those might be, I am grateful for such a perfect partner to go through life with.

“In the presence of God, and before our friends and family, I thank God for you. I thank Him for entrusting you, his beautiful creation, to me as my wife/husband. I promise to be your best friend, to honor you and to respect you. I promise to help you become the person God wants you to be. I will count it joy when we experience trials, knowing that through the struggle God will draw us closer to Him and build us up. I will strive to love you as Christ does. This is my vow and promise to you that will not be broken-in good times or bad-as long as we both shall live,or our Lord should return.”

A guide to watching #firstworldproblems

Today’s popular facebook cause (at least in my feed) seemed to be a first world problems video. First world problems has been around for a while of course (and frankly gotten sort of silly in twitter land), and I have always felt it needed a little bit of a filter. So, here is my guide to watching the first wold problems video:

Remember the danger of the single story.
A story of a place is powerful, so powerful that you might forget there are other stories . In this case there are two single stories. First, that the developing world is just a place of pain and helplessness. There are true problems, true crises and true needs, but those are only part of the story. Not the whole thing. The second single story it tells is that everybody in the developed world is shallow, greedy, impatient and generally selfish. Again, there are people who fit this description, but its not the whole story.

Don’t forget your own poverty.
Lack of things is not the only form of poverty. We all have poverty in our lives. Broken relationships with people and God are two that are easy to pick out. If you peel away some layers in this video you can get to this. It is true that we often consider silly things problems. The question that must be answered is why. What is the poverty in our lives that drives us to lose perspective?

Let this video be a commentary on yourself, not people you don’t know.
I think the way (and the way it is intended) to watch this video is consider it as a reminder to those of us who have more material resources to use that privilege well. If we flip it around and think it is just a reminder of how there are people in need we may gain a little bit from it, but we miss the point that we need change in our lives.

Keep those handy tips in mind as you watch:

now I’m going to get back to trying to reload the operating system on my fancy phone. Which is not a first world problem.

A post about Kibo

This is going to show up on the Kibo.org blog in a few weeks, but i thought i would test it out here. -Ben

 

Three years ago my wife and I moved to Tulsa for an internship  at Garnett Church of Christ through GPS Tulsa. We were a bit old for internships, but it seemed like it would be an adventure.
The first day of our internship Bobby and Candice showed up at church, along with some people from Water4 and we started digging a well in the front yard. This is how we were introduced to Kibo Group. Three years, two trips to Jinja, hours of conversation with Greg, Ronald, Bobby, Roy, Candice, Abraham, Rachel and Clint later I’m all in. I believe in what Kibo is doing, and want to be a part of it.

It’s hard to summarize in just a few paragraphs all the elements that draw me to Kibo, but a thread that seems to connect them is that Kibo acknowledges and even embraces complexity. I’m a big fan of simple solutions (I think egg beaters are genious, and I also think this food processor needs one less button), but sometimes we make things too simple. Our simple solutions don’t solve complex problems.

We can look at people in need and think their problems are simple. We see they don’t have money, food, water, shoes, or education. If we are feeling generous it seems easy enough to provide those things. Or, if we are feeling a bit cynical, or a little judgmental we say that person should just get a job, or just buy some shoes, or just go back to school. Both of these responses ignore the complexity of the situation.

Instead we have to let go of our assumptions, ask questions, try to understand how people can solve their own problems, understand what we should not do, understand how we can help, listen to people, and be patient. Perhaps above all be patient and willing to accept slow solutions.

These things are not easy. They force us to think deeply, and to accept that we can’t solve everybody’s problems through the strength of our minds and hands. They make us realize we might not be able to take a quick glance at the world and understand it. And slowly we see the complexity.

I have had the opportunity to observe Kibo, first from the outside and now from the inside, I am convinced that Kibo is trying to understand and embrace the complexity. The process is slow, imperfect, and sometimes boring, but it is also deep, fulfilling, and empowering. For my part I am honored to play a small role in an amazing group of people acting redemptively in the lives of people around them.

Creativity

“Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up” – Pablo Picasso
 

I don’t really see myself as a naturally creative person. I think at some level we are probably all creative in some aspect. It seems that I have to work at it a little to find my natural creative outlets. And I’ve found ways to let my natural creativity come out. (making cards, seeing the beauty that still lies in old, discarded things.)

I recently came across some old artwork I created in elementary school. Some of these made me laugh really hard. And some of them seem to have come from a completely unfamiliar creative brain.

 {That’s a brontosaurus w/ a freakishly long tongue. Standing next to a tar pit.}

{You’re missing a lot of 3-D detail here, like layered construction paper hills, and cardboard behind the big balloon, making it just “pop out” from the page, and red yarn tying the basket to the balloon. You can, however, see my signature “m” birds.}

 

Because looking at these, it seems that maybe somewhere along the way, I fell into a trap of thinking too much. As Ray Bradbury said, “Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”

{I call this one “Root Trapper”}

And I’ve tried figuring out the logistics of this story. Can you read it? Here, I’ll transcribe it for you.

“This Plant is called a Root Trapper. It is purple and green. It has a wheel that goes around and eats the roots. On the leaves of it, it has the plants food to attract the roots. The neat thing about it is that it is it only grows by green hills on its right.”
The right side of the picture is my rendition of The Root Trapper. It says, “This is a root trapper. With a wheele that goes eight miles per hour. and eats the roots.”

But I think the beauty of this story & creation is in just celebrating it for what it is. Not trying to figure out the logistics of how in the world this “World’s Scariest Plant” would ever survive.

I’ll leave you with some deep thoughts by Calvin & Hobbes.

“As my artist’s statement explains, my work is utterly incomprehensible and is therefore full of deep significance”-Calvin
 
 

Thoughts on our trip

One of our teammates from last year’s trip recently asked us these questions. Spending 10 days in a completely different place is sort of hard to sum up nicely in a normal “How was your trip” conversation. So in an attempt to share about our trip, I’m going to answer Jo’s questions. I know what you really want are pictures, but this will have to do as a start…. 🙂

 

What were the key moments when you had opportunities to minister to others? (Ugandans, Candice and Bobby and team members) 

This is surprisingly hard to answer. I suppose that this time, we were able to minister to Bobby & Candice (Americans living in Jinja, working with Kibo) by bringing them some “comforts of home” like crushed red pepper flakes & contact solution. When you’re living somewhere like Jinja you might only get one or two options on the kind of contact solution you can pick up at the corner store. And if it’s not the kind that you prefer, then when someone is coming from “the land of plenty” where you can find 15 different types of contact solution in every corner store, then that might be something you’d request too. We also brought things like good, quality scissors & dry erase markers for the Kibo employees to use in their offices. You can find these things there…but they might not last as long, or they might be really expensive.  Bobby & Candice also ordered some things online & had them shipped to us. Us packing them in our luggage was much cheaper than shipping something from target.com to Uganda. So we were able to minister to Bobby & Candice in that way, by bringing them some “comforts of home”.

We also really saw our role this time as facilitators for the rest of our team. We helped coordinate the pre-trip meetings, we kept track of the group money & paid for meals, etc. It was fun to see the change the group went through from first impressions & being a bit overwhelmed by the smells & sights & sounds, to falling in love with this place, in the same way we have.

Is it strange that I am having the hardest time knowing when I might have ministered to Ugandans?  I feel like they did much more ministering to me than the other way around.

 

What were the key moments when others ministered to you? 

Bobby & Candice (& Rachel!-another Kibo staffer) took care of so many details for our trip that it made it easy for us to just show up & go where they had arranged for us to go. And Ida (one of the Ugandan Kibo staff) was very transparent about parts of her life & marriage. Hearing part of her story & seeing redemption there & seeing the way she gives & gives to others was really encouraging to me.

 

What went unexpectedly wrong? 

Hardly anything! When we arrived back in Tulsa, one of our trunks of coffee wasn’t on the baggage carousel with all the others…but we were able to find it before we left the airport. Most of the rest of the team had flight delays on the way back & got home much later than planned…but we all got home.

One afternoon a few of the girls were sort of stranded by the driver at an orphanage. There was some miscommunication & the driver thought he was supposed to wait for them somewhere else. They ended up having to find their own transportation (personal taxi motor bikes) back to meet up with the rest of the group. It was a bit more of an adventure than they had planned for that afternoon, but I think they all actually enjoyed it!

 

What went surprisingly right?

Lives were changed! And we made it through the Murchison part of our trip “on our own”, just Ben & I in charge-no Bobby & Candice to help us navigate things. This means that we successfully got the group to the game park (a several hour drive), into the park (with fees), across the ferry at the appropriate times, to the lodge, and back to the airport. AND along the way, I did not lose any of the group money, we had no vehicle issues, and we saw 4 lions & experienced a minor confrontation with a rather large elephant & lived to tell about it. Success in my book! (Big Thanks to our driver, Ojok, who was really, really helpful with all of those things.)

 

What are some things you learned about yourself?

I was reminded that I am naturally a “rescuer”. I want everyone to have very low anxiety & be happy. So it was stretching for me to not have all the answers. Or even if I did have some information about what was coming up next, to not share that all the time & allow people to work through some of their anxieties.

 

 

On buying refrigerators and houses

We bought a refrigerator this weekend. Its going to go in that house we are buying. Which all feels very grown up and makes me want Peter Pan to shows up tonight. Its been interesting to see what things are important to us when we make big decisions. Like many people we want to live a somewhat simple life that is uncluttered by lots of stuff, not wasteful of the things we have, and respectful to the people around us. But we are not very good at that. We still have lots of things we never use, but might someday. We still have things we dont need, or, really, even want, we just never bother to get rid of them. We still let enough food go to waste in our refrigerator to feed a small country.

I have been thinking recently that i want to have less things but better things. Things that last, that bring value, that are well designed. I want to learn to truly appreciate one or two of those things then a bunch of stuff.

We only sort of took this into account intentionally when we picked our house…funny because a house is something to be very intentional about. In the end though we ended up in a smaller house. We are paying on the high end square footage wise, but its still less money then a big house, and its a better house. But there is something more subtle about it that is going to be frustrating at first, but will be good in the long run: its smaller sure, but it also does not have a lot of storage space. Less space to hide away stuff that we are unwilling to get rid of. If we want to live a simple life we need a house that will help us reach that goal, not encourage us to do the opposite. I am sure that when we can’t find a place for that random box we need to store we are going to be frustrated, but, in the end it will be worth it.

When we bought our refrigerator we were a lot more intentional about that. We have a bad habit of having way to much stuff in the refrigerator, it gets lost in the deep dark corners, goes bad, costs us money, and is wasteful. A few months ago we filled up the back half of our fridge with old orange juice bottles full of water. We are still getting better at it, but overall this has forced us to be a lot more intentional about what we buy and how quickly we use it. So, for our new fridge we were really intentional. We bought a smallish fridge (18 ft3). But more importantly it is wide, but not deep, so things wont get lost in the back. It has clear drawers so we can see what is in the fresh produce part. It will force us to keep less food around and to plan our meals better. Im sure it is going to drive us crazy.

I think we need to make this a trend. We are not disciplined enough to really live the life style that we want, so, for us, its going to be really important that the things we surround ourselves with help us to live simply. They have to help us, not fight against us.