If you haven't yet seen the barrel man in real life, don't let me spoil it. Let me just say that both the iconic wooden figurine and its hidden "surprise," and the concept of saving rainwater in barrels, are familiar to many Filipinos.
But being a Filipina raised in the States means there are things I've had to relearn that would have been second nature to my grandparents. I enrolled in Tagalog 101 as a 20-year-old and struggled to wrap my tongue around conjugations. I worked my way through Filipino cookbooks with the help of a dog-eared English-Tagalog dictionary. I tried my feet at sipa and made my mom look like a World Cup champion of our native hackeysack. Last weekend was another experience of getting back to the basics, this time with water. I went to learn rainwater harvesting 101 through a workshop organized by Movement Generation.
Walking in, I wondered what other 20-something Filipino/Americans would think of this workshop. While my parents raised my sister and I to be resource-conscious as a practical matter, saving rain to wash clothes or irrigate plants was not a part of our daily lives in the US. It was only when I first visited the Philippines that I saw ordinary folks catch rain on an everyday basis. It was not unusual to experience brownouts, those times when the water was cut off and the tap ran dry. In preparation for days like these my uncles and aunties stored many heavy, colorful barrels of water in backrooms.
I adored taking cold tabo showers and how my skin felt to bathe in rainwater. But while it seemed like a novelty to my American-born self, it was normal survival mode for those who understood water would not always come from a faucet.
The workshop was full of educators, community, and gardeners intent on applying these skills to their daily work and lives. We started from the beginning, refreshing on the water cycle and our place in the watershed. Brock Dolman, one of the facilitators, framed the water crisis as something even more immediate than food security. If we or our crops are thirsty and we cannot access clean water, how can we survive?
Participants took part in the hands-on work to install a system to channel water from the roof into a series of interconnected barrels. We drilled holes, hoisted barrels into place, and installed a gutter. I was struck not just by how accessible it all was, but just how absurd that a most fundamental right to water has been privatized, polluted, and taken out of reach for so many. It's that crazy. As we closed the workshop it felt right on time when a light rain began to sprinkle and the first sheen of water slicked the roof.
In leaving the workshop I felt not only more skilled to adapt water saving skills in my urban environment, but even more fired up to steward the water we all depend on...becoming another kind of barrel (wo)man.