Digging Deeper over those Water Bills

By Hannah Black
The Bali Times

SILAKARANG ~ Readers who live in Bali may have noticed a pretty steep rise in their water bills recently, an issue which has been in the news and also a hot topic of conversation around where I live. The near doubling of water prices has hit a lot of people hard and has prompted many families in my village, and most likely many others, to dig wells.

My husband Ongky and his brother Wayan have had a long-standing agreement that Ongky would pay the electricity and Wayan the water, but because of the massive increase, Wayan began to slip with his end of the deal. We all agreed it was for the best if we had a well dug and didn’t have to worry about paying for government water anymore.

I assumed the well would be dug by a machine, so I was pretty surprised when I walked into the main part of the family compound to see two men with shovels and a pickaxe breaking open the concrete and start hand-digging what was to be a 20-metre shaft.

After calculating 20 metres in my mixed-up imperial/metric brain, I was gobsmacked to realise they would be taking turns to dig down more than 10 times their individual height.

I had no doubt they could do it. Both of them looked seriously fit, with massive shoulders and arms and hands like spades – but could it possibly be safe?

Ongky reassured me that they do it every day and would have a fan blowing in fresh air when they got deeper, but I still wasn’t totally convinced it was a good idea.

Growing up in the “health and safety” capital of the world (the UK), I couldn’t help but feel that I should be trying to stop them undertaking such a potentially dangerous task. I wanted to offer to pay for the water all by myself just to stop them digging, but I also was totally hooked watching them nonchalantly dig down deeper and deeper.

In fact the whole family was rapt, talking to the worker who was waiting his turn to dig and looking down the hole to check the progress every so often.

My 5-year-old nephew Kaka couldn’t be torn away and was shouted at several times to back away from the hole (it seems little boys love digging holes, just like puppies).

Sometimes the lack of health and safety regulations in Bali, as uneasy as it makes me, can make life a whole lot easier. When I think about all the zoning paperwork and hiring of certified workers and making sure everyone has the right safety gear the way you have to do in the UK, I thank my lucky stars for tough and hardy well-diggers.

I know how awful that may sound and I am in no way in favour of people doing jobs that put them in danger, but in other, “safer” countries, there are so many safety regulations that you can barely tie your own shoes without a licence.

The fear instilled in “westerners” by the ever-growing number of lawsuits filed every time someone spills their coffee or trips over a piece of badly laid carpet that causes officials to cover every single possible danger with a health and safety rule seems so unnecessary.

I’m sure that back before health and safety laws and lawsuits, people tripped and fell, got up and brushed themselves off and got on with their day. Here in Bali you could probably even spill your coffee on someone and get away with it by uttering two simple little words: “I’m sorry.”

Have such tight health and safety laws made us soft and overprotective? Have we had any exciting element of danger washed out of our daily lives by a tidal wave of regulations?

I wish I could say I’m an adventurous sort, living on the edge and all that, but I’m not. I’m not averse to breaking the rules, but I’m also not about to go base jumping or skydiving.

I get my daily dose of danger when I get in my car or on the motorbike and hit Bali’s roads. At least once in every outing I’m sure to get in some sticky situation that gets my adrenalin pumping.

Back to the brave well-diggers: after around three hours they were just over two metres down and even looking down that depth it seemed like an endless black hole to me. I can’t imagine looking in when it’s 10 times deeper.


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My Compound Life

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