Connecting with My Home State Through Water

What do we do without it?

January has been an interesting month at my office. In addition to the usual hectic feeling that comes when interviewing job candidates and helping interns get settled, I had the unpleasant task of explaining to one of my interns why he could not use the bathroom or drink from the water fountain on his first day on the job.

Don’t worry, I’m not describing some weird intern hazing ritual. We actually had no access to water – none at all. Something happened to the pipes in our building. I’m not sure if they froze in the super cold weather we have been experiencing in the D.C. area or if they just decided to take a vacation, but for a few days in January, all the residents on the 10 floors of my office building had to trek to other places in the neighborhood in order to use the bathroom.

It was actually right around this time that a co-worker of mine returned from a trip to West Virginia. Her husband’s grandmother passed away, and she and her husband and young son traveled to Charleston, WV, for the funeral. While they were there, Charleston and the surrounding area lost access to water because of a chemical spill. Picture trying to take care of a 1-year-old when you can’t even get water from the faucet! I can only imagine how my co-worker felt when she returned to an office building struggling with water issues as well.

As a native West Virginian, I felt simultaneously relieved that my parents in Buckhannon, WV, were not directly affected, and also strangely linked to my entire home state as I grappled with my own water issues, trekking to the local Panera to use the bathroom and get water during the workday.

I also felt lucky. I just had to roam a few blocks away from my office in order to have access to fresh, clean water. My water issues were contained to one building, but West Virginians in the water-effected area had absolutely no access to drinkable water or a way to take a clean shower. They could flush the toilets, and that’s about it.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about the West Virginia water trouble on this blog ever since I learned about it. I’m worried about the people affected in the state. I’m angry at the stupidity of the company involved, and I’m outraged at the news that another chemical could still be in the water. But in spite of my feelings of solidarity, I also wonder what I can add to the conversation.

So, I have decided that instead of coming up with some profound thoughts to describe the ongoing saga, I will highlight some important voices that are already out there. With this entry, I’m taking a moment to share the thoughts of other West Virginians. I will add my voice to theirs in recognizing West Virginia, praying for the best for the people who now have poisonous water in their taps, and demanding more and better attention for our home state.

While I’ve got complete water usage back in my office building (much to my intern’s relief), I continue to wonder how West Virginia is doing. While the water is back, they’ve still got a long way to go. For instance, pregnant women aren’t really allowed to use that water for fear of harming their unborn children. Yep, that makes me feel good about the water. And honestly, how safe would you feel about the water in your home just days after it looked orange and stinky coming out of the taps? Not very safe at all, I’m afraid.

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