'We are going for shower," my mother-in-law Athama instructed in her Tamil-flavoured Indian English. Having driven for 10 hours through obscure villages with tiny barbershops, pull-away shacks on wheels and beehive- sized jackfruits hanging from trees, my family caravan had arrived in Kutrallam, Tamil Nadu, also known as The Falls. Kutrallam is a lush, mountainous town, vulnerable to violent winds that periodically send coconuts flying and monkeys running for cover.
Athama was crazy about these falls. As the matriarch of our tribe, she had dragged the rest of us with her for show and tell. "There are so many herbs up there and they can cure skin diseases," my sister-in-law said. I wasn't convinced.
The Falls are for the patient, the daring, the brave. My family was undaunted. Along for the ride was our entire clan including granny, great granny, a maid and a cook. We lugged a tank of cooking gas, a stove, and various utensils and dishes - everything but the kitchen sink. "No restaurant cooking," Athama said.
Most people don't think of taking a shower as a group activity but it is at The Falls. More than 20 of us "took a shower" alongside hundreds of other tourists (men one side of the pipe, women on the other). And don't even think about getting frisky, or else you'll get a good caning from the police.
There are box falls, temple falls, and what I call the pipe falls. Here, bathers lined up, gobs of shampoo on their heads and spices and oils smeared on their faces and bodies. You'd have thought it was a rock concert the way they awaited their chance to get drenched whenever it got overcrowded with bodies splashing about under the waterfall.
We were the wild bunch in the abayas, with the screaming, restless kids. My husband's sister literally threw my little girl in the water. She's now scarred for life. The mere mention of India and she breaks out into her terrible tales of The Falls.
While the crowds indulged in the herbal healing, I stood at the fence, looking down into the ravine that collected the communal body afterwash from above. It was at once golden and greasy. Where does this water go? How long will this miracle water last? I had my suspicions about wash-off healing, but who could I argue with?
Were such practices contributing to a water shortage? Who could I get to explain this to me and what could I do to help? I was at a loss until I discovered an online tool to clarify my concerns about water wastage. Now when I ask "What's your water footprint?" they'll at least have to reply with "What's that?". And if they enjoy The Falls, they will have less reason to worry than many others.
Waterfootprint.org offers a way to calculate how much water is consumed by an individual or a region, and how much gets evaporated from our daily usage. A vegetarian has a different water footprint than an omnivore and of course, those who make more money consume more water. A middle class American who is an average meat eater has a footprint twice as large as her Indian counterpart. While waterfootprint.org doesn't have information for the UAE, with the way we use electricity in this country, one might surmise that our water consumption might be greater on average than those in America.
So leave the shampoo and the oils at home next time you go for a little natural healing under a waterfall, but try turning off the tap when you brush your teeth. Try washing your car less frequently. Then there might be more water to go around for everyone, even those who encounter it on its magical, never-ending journey at The Falls.
Maryam Ismail is a sociologist who divides her time between the UAE and the United States