Adventures of Christmas and My Reflections on Travels and Empathy

Happy New Year!


Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say on a bright Hawaiian Christmas day.   It was that time of the year.  For those of you that know me personally, you know that National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation has been a favorite movie of mine for half my life and that no Christmas season for me is complete without a solid viewing of the movie while reciting nearly every line.  You may also know that I decided to return "home" for Christmas for the first time in 4 years to celebrate the holidays.  Despite my love for the movie, or the number of times I have laughed myself to tears with my best friends about Cousin Eddie, I just never imagined in a million years that I would wake up on Christmas hoping that Cousin Eddie and his RV would show up outside my grandmother's door.  Oh Eddie, where were you when we needed you? I have been there for you every Christmas! 

Joking aside, here's the story I need tell.  

On Christmas Eve, my dad descended the stairs to my grandmothers basement to put a few things in the laundry. Upon arrival he noticed that water which had not been on the basement floor earlier in the day had begun to accumulate.  A few test flushes and sink turn-ons later, it was established that the pipe leading to the septic tank was in fact blocked.  Likely frozen.  It was about 18 degrees out at the time.  


For a moment their was panic.  My mom reached for her cell phone to call my Aunt, I thought we were about to cancel Christmas. Packing our bags and heading "over the river and through the woods" leaving Grandma's house behind at 11pm on Christmas Eve?  10 minutes ago this was unthinkable, it was our last Christmas on Pinecrest. But what were we to do?  Perhaps it's how Clark Griswald felt when he had just gotten the message that their would be no Christmas bonus.  I was being stripped of the dream to celebrate our last Christmas in this house?  The reason I had abandoned the beach holiday.  

And so it began...  a pipe, a hand saw, and a strong arm, and we had all the water from the house draining into a very large recycling bin.  Christmas was saved, we could all go to bed after a quick pit stop outside to relieve ourselves.  Yes, that's right, OUTSIDE.  

As the next 36 hours carried on, I continued to have one thing on my mind, people in this world live this way.  Not just the homeless in America or the people surviving in areas with recent natural disasters, but people all over the world with no other choice.  

I was challenged during the next 36 hours in a few ways.  Remember the old rule “if it's yellow let it mellow if it's brown flush it down”?  We tried hard to relieve ourselves in the woods during the day but waking up in the middle of the night was a bit tougher.  So that was the rule.  Mind you everything would end up in the woods anyway.  We laughed and joked but 36 hours of potty jokes was really no joke.  

Shower anyone?   This is something I have had the privilege of my whole life and I really wanted one.  It wasn't a necessity but could we deal with it given the situation?  We gave it a shot and shower I went.  I turned the water on, jumped in, turned the water off. Shampoo in my hair.  Water on rinse.  Water off.  Soap body. Water on rinse. Water off.  Nothing about this felt like the shower that I take advantage of daily, but it was hot and it was clean and their was something to be said for that.  Certainly I know that many people in this world do not have options to even this.  And, it used less water than one flush of the old toilet.  Upon completion of three of these similar showers my husband then had to go to basement and carry the accumulated water up a flight of stairs and into the yard. So despite the fact we had running water we needed to conserve.  Everything we used needed to be manually dumped.  A pint a pound my dad reminded us as we monitored the "bucket". 


We tried our best to conserve. Dumping the toilet water was certainly not sanitary but we had little choice without abandoning our Christmas in NH.  



Little choice.   


Family Member 1: "Where you going all bundled up?" 

Family Member 2: "Just outside to relieve myself." 





This experience immediately made me curious.  How can I bring this experience to my classroom? So I did a little research alongside my 7th graders who are currently researching the Millennium Goals.  

The world poverty standard is an income of $2 per day or less. By this world poverty statistic, 50 % of the global population lives in poverty.  Of the 2.2 billion children in the world, 1 billion live in poverty.  Poverty is closely linked to access to clean water. 1.1 billion people lack access to clean water, with only 25 % of the global poor having indoor plumbing.  More than half of all people suffering from illness in developing countries because of poor water conditions. -Stephanie Lamm Borgen Project

Perhaps you are aware of the United Nations Millennium Goals? 


Goal 7: "Ensure Environmental Sustainability" includes the following from the United Nations.

United Nations Reports Target 7.C:
Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation

  • The world has met the target of halving the proportion of people without access to improved sources of water, five years ahead of schedule.
  • Between 1990 and 2010, more than two billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources.
  • The proportion of people using an improved water source rose from 76 per cent in 1990 to 89 per cent in 2010.
  • Over 40 per cent of all people without improved drinking water live in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • In 2011, 768 million people remained without access to an improved source of drinking water.
  • Over 240,000 people a day gained access to improved sanitation facilities from 1990 to 2011.
  • Despite progress, 2.5 billion in developing countries still lack access to improved sanitation facilities.

So, while we have come along way we still have a ways to go.  This experience really got me thinking.  Upon further research I become more aware of the diseases that become widespread from lack of sanitation facilities, the fact that education is lost because girls miss school because they won't go without private latrines especially during their menstrual cycles, and I felt sad that the country of South Africa that I fell in love with this summer is only at 74%.  I also started to think about water conservation and how it directly and indirectly affects me.  Hello California drought!!!  Might be a lesson there, soon.  How much water do you use?

Check it out with this calculator.

The world bank describes this sanitation issue as:

Access to improved sanitation facilities refers to the percentage of the population using improved sanitation facilities. The improved sanitation facilities include flush/pour flush (to piped sewer system, septic tank, pit latrine), ventilated improved pit (VIP) latrine, pit latrine with slab, and composting toilet.

The statistics, TAKE A LOOK!  

We still have a lot of work to do.  How can we help?  

In honor of the new year, not only do I want to share my thoughts, educate my students and hope that they want to create action but I also want to do something myself. Are you confident that a certain organization is doing it right?  Please feel free to comment and suggest.  And... stay tuned from the garage, a few 7th graders have really been doing a lot of research on some of these other Millennium Goals and I can't wait to hear how they want to ACT.  

The next "Good old-fashioned Christmas" is only 12 months away.  Let's hope more people have access to clean water and sanitation facilities.  It will nearly be 2015, which my friends is also the target date for Millennium Goals! Let's be more aware.  Let's try and empathize, let's give a little Christmas Bonus to those less fortunate.