Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Changing lifestyles - the evolution of bottled water in Sri Lanka

Sbarrkum had written something on bottled water and reading it set off a train of thought.

There was a time, when we were very small, when the standard advice given was that water should always be boiled. Tourists and rare visitors from overseas were repeatedly cautioned as to the dangers of unboiled water.

When traveling, the only safe thing to drink (or so we were told) were the bottled soft drinks; Elephant House or the odd Pure Beverages bottle.Vendors on trains would cry "Barrley Barrrley", a short form for the popular Orange Barley and which, in practice meant any carbonated soft drink. In the worst of situations, tea could be considered an option; although it usually came out of grimy kettles or a metal cup, at least the water should have been boiled.

Fruit juice was unknown, but king coconut could sometimes be found. People did not travel widely so there was no market catering for travelers as such, one had to try ones luck at the small shops (called 'boutiques') that served the people of the area.

Wayside taps were a plenty, but were supposed to be only for washing or topping up the radiator of a car, which tended to boil on long trips.

If someone said that we had to pay for water we would have thought them quite mad. Water was always free. Now bottled water, even in small homes is common. I think, on a per litre basis, bottled water almost as expensive as petrol.

How times have changed.

1 comment:

sbarrkum said...

Cannot recall while growing up if the water at home was boiled. However out of the home I would drink from tap water at school and at times from wayside taps. Drinking from way side taps was a bit of "no no" because of the kultur factor more than hygiene. When you are young at school by 7am because you want to get a hour of play before school starts at 8am and then leave school at about 5 pm, thirst trumps kultur.

I was not born with a Iron constitution. On the contrary, because of over protective parents (for that Era), I was always having loose stomach and colds. If I remained bare bodied would end up with cold. If I ate food from outside be it the school tuck shop or kade, would end up with diarrhea. Around Grade 5 or so I kept continuing to eat from, stay without a shirt even while having a cold or diarrhea. By around Grade 6 most of the problems had disappeared. Now I can still drink water from most sources even from a river, be in wet clothes the whole day and stay unaffected. I have always thought too much hygiene is not good and current studies seem to confirm that hypothesis.

Sri Lankan Municipal Tap water is good, quite clean and chlorinated.
I still drink tap water even from little wayside eating houses, and at times directly from the rivers like Kala-Oya. However, confess to buying bottled water when traveling because its chilled.

Rain water: we think thats the cleanest. I found the hard way its not. Out in the place I stay north of Puttalam, drinking water needs to brought from outside, typically from wells and Bottled water for visitor (tube well water is too hard, like Jaffna water) . Last Dec (2012), it was raining very heavily, roads were flooded and vehicles were getting stuck or skidding in the mud, and we were effectively marooned in the house. I put out a barrel in the open and collected the water. Used the collected water for drinking. By evening I was having diarrhea, high fever and excruciating pain. It felt like my intestines were being twisted. Attributed this to a tin fish sambol I had eaten. So kept on drinking water and suffered the pain. A day later a local dropped by to see how I was faring and mentioned that a lot of kids had to be taken to doctors because of stomach cramps and diarrhea. It was then it clicked, rain water. More chats with local and found that rain water specially during heavy rains is a no no. It made sense specially when you think of the green,blue and read algae contaminated rains that were occurring during the heavy rains during that time.