When I was on a scouting trip out here last September, someone told me I’d want help just to prep all of my water. She said I’d need to boil it and then filter it before it would be safe to use, and that this could easily eat up 1-2 hours a day. I also was told to use bottled water to brush our teeth and to keep my eyes closed tightly while showering. Others said they drank the water and were just fine. I experimented by drinking the tap water at restaurants and drinking from the hotel water and didn’t get sick (of course, they may have treated their water too).
After moving here I was told that these precautions were necessary only if you drank the city water. We’re on a bore-hole (aka well), so unless the water source or the tank or pipes were contaminated, I thought we’d be okay. I watched the dogs closely and they didn’t seem to have any problem with the water. Occasionally there was this kind of filmy spotting on top of the water but we had the same thing in Michigan and I had the water regularly tested there. (Apparently various minerals can amass on the surface of the water and give the appearance of little oil slicks; especially if you have lime-y water.)
I experimented occasionally and drank our water and never got sick but I wanted to be sure. Who do you call when you want to know all things Zambian? Yvonne! Our trusty neighbor. I asked her where one goes to get water tested and being a woman of action, she stopped by the University of Zambia and asked and found the right place for me. (Again, this is what I love about Zambians — they’re so helpful! Would an American actually go and find the right place and then come back and tell you?)
I sterilized an old tomato sauce jar and filled it with our tap water. (In the states, the environmental quality department provides you with their special bottles that you have to use.)
Yvonne volunteered to go with me and off we went to the University, which was only about 20 minutes away.
Yvonne directed me to the correct department and marched ahead with water sample in hand. (Don’t you love how snazzy she always dresses. She has the best hat collection.)
We walked through the lab and met with Prof. Dan, who took our sample and ordered the complete battery of tests.
Then, the accountant came in to take payment of 480,000 kwatcha. Of course, I still haven’t gotten into the swing of taking large amounts of cash with me everywhere (in the states I literally charge everything, from a pack of gum to fast food to doctor’s visits — it’s easier to keep track of expenses that way). So, I was short. No problem, said Dan the Professor Man, and he just crossed off some of the tests he said were redundant until we got down to 420,000 kwatcha.
In three days I received the results by email!
I’m happy to report that our water came out clean, clear and very safe! Professor Dan had warned that there was likely to be harmless particles in the water but not in ours — it was perfect. I’ve been drinking it ever since and have had no problems. Some of you may have been following the broo-ha-ha on the chemicals and other bad things found in bottled water (a 2009 GAO study found most tap water in the U.S. had fewer chemicals than bottled water) so I was glad that our water was safe and that we wouldn’t have to use bottled water after all.
The only downside to our water is that the natural minerals can cause build-up in tea kettles or even in toilets (e.g., the lime builds up), so we have to use distilled water for the kettles (the toilets we just have to scrub and/or live with). However, the test results indicated that our minerals were well within normal boundaries and they are harmless. Good to know!