Sunday, 6 May 2018

A Jordanian Tale of the Whiter Shade of the Water Pail


Last week was littered with household disasters. Some were trivial problems – such as the exploding scrambled eggs, which covered what felt like every square inch of the inside of the microwave. Some were embarrassing, like me knocking over a full glass of red wine over the new (3 month old) carpet, the broken glass cutting my finger, adding blood to the spillage. Some were incapacitating, like my laptop spending a day in the IT department, only to have the home wi fi go out on its return. Others were sad, like the first time broody hen, who had been sitting on eggs for the past 3 weeks, hatching just 2 chicks out of 12 eggs. There would have been 3, but one chick couldn’t break out of its shell completely and by the time we noticed what was happening, it had died. Some were irritating, such as waiting 10 days to have a smart meter fitted, followed by 2 hours of work by a gas fitter only to be told he couldn’t commission the meters and didn’t have a digital reader available – so another appointment was necessary. 

Others brought a state of near hysteria such as the washing machine given up the ghost just as the minor mountain that was the week’s washing was to be done. Thankfully, the machine was covered by a warranty and soon a plumber was on his way. On arrival he thought we had bought a ‘Friday afternoon washing machine’. Such machine are said to come of the production line on a Friday afternoon when workers are tired and wanting to start the weekend, so a shoddy machine might be the result. I have to say I was sceptical as I wondered in these days of robots and automation, whether a human had been anywhere near the machine’s manufacture. But it was a poorly made machine with numerous problems. 

Perhaps somewhat predictably given the week up to that point, whilst the plumber was able to get the machine to wash, he kept muttering ‘that it wasn’t right’, eventually declaring that he had done the best he could, that the machine needed new parts he didn’t have and he would have to return to fix the problem permanently. As the machine was only a couple of months old we have asked for a replacement, which after a few phone calls, the company have agreed to – it will be coming later on today.

Now just as I was feeling sorry for myself I came across a story about plumbers in Jordan that helped put my problems into perspective. Jordan is a small, very dry country where almost 75% of the land is desert. The people suffer with chronic water shortages, with there being just 150 cubic metres of water available per person, per year. That is one-sixtieth the amount water that is available to UK residents. Part of the long standing problem has been conflict, and in particular fighting over the River Jordan. This is a river fed by other rivers flowing from Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Palestine, a geographic context not renowned for its peace and co-operative behaviours.

However, as well as these problems, water leakage is also a real issues. In some parts of Jordan, up to 76% of water is liked before it comes through a tap or toilet. Too help put that in to perspective, if all this wasted water could be saved it would provide the basic needs for 2.6 million people, some 25% of Jordan’s population. Resolving this problem has been difficult. Up to 2011, all plumbers were male. Perhaps not unusual. In the UK less than 6% of all trade works, including plumbers and plasters, are female. In Jordan this problem is exacerbated by prevailing cultural norms. A man who is not a relative, can’t enter someone’s house if only women are there. As many of the women’s husbands work, only women are at home during the day. The solution was to train women to become plumbers. The story I read was, how since 2011 a growing band of female plumbers has helped reduce the water wasted by leaks by over 40%, and more is being saved every year. There are now some 300 female plumbers working across Jordan. 

It was a great story. Many women in Jordan, never leave the family home. These plumbers have challenged the value given to the more traditional roles of women and opened up new opportunities for other women. Not only is precious water being saved, but the women involved now have independent incomes, great self-confidence, knowledge and skills. They can also afford better education for their children, and more comfortable lives for their families. In a land where exploding bombs are more familiar than scrambled eggs, changes are perhaps very profound.

Sadly, last week I also heard of the death of a long-time colleague and friend, Craig. We worked together in the same mental health hospital. He was responsible for estate and facilities while I had responsibility for clinical services. We both studied for our MBAs together and he was one of the most solution-focused people I have ever come across. He would have been way ahead of the Jordan Ministry of Water and Irrigation in coming up with a solution to their water problem. RIP Craig, it was a real privilege to know you.