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June 5, 2018 | by  | in Features |
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Dehydration is the Enemy

Dehydration is the enemy. This is my life motto, mostly because I haven’t yet had a meaningful enough life experience to warrant something as cliché as a proper life motto. Nevertheless, dehydration is a problem I face every day when I come to uni, and that is because there are not enough drinking fountains.
Every morning, like most of us (at Kelburn at least, I know literally nothing about the other campuses), I haul my sorry self up a hill to classes, and arrive thirsty. I like the idea of bringing a water bottle with me, but when I have to carry it up a hill, along with food and books and raincoats and whatever else, I rarely feel like lugging one along (not to mention that that would require hunting through the old magazines and books and miscellaneous other paper that is my excuse for a floor in order to locate my water bottle). This means that I need to sit through at least an hour of learning, gazing with envy at the people who had more sense and strength than me and brought a drink, before I can go and hydrate myself.
I know of only two drinking fountains within five minutes walk of my habitual haunts on campus, and those often have lines. I stand in a educational institution in a developed country, parched, waiting for others before I can get a little water, wondering if the stress or the dehydration will kill me first.
Access to clean water is a human right (like it really is, according to the UN and everything). We are fantastically lucky in this country that the water that comes out of our taps is (usually) safe to drink. But that is meaningless if there is demand for water that isn’t being met by this institution that is being given so much money to serve students. Surely drinking fountains don’t cost that much.
There are other places to get water on campus, including the many vending machines and bathrooms. The bottled water available in vending machines is always an option, of course, but bottled water is bad. You probably know why, but quick recap: it uses extra energy to bottle and move water, when there is already safe water in pipes, it creates plastic waste, the water is often taken from springs or aquifers that shouldn’t be depleted or commercialized, it costs money that doesn’t need to be spent on water, and worst of all, it makes the water in taps seem inferior by comparison. The other alternatives, like energy drinks, soft drinks, or coffee have their upsides, like chemicals that make you feel good, but the price is a problem, and hydration shouldn’t have to come with sugar.
There is also water in the bathrooms, which is technically safe to drink (I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t taken the odd awkward gulp when I was really thirsty), but something about drinking, or even filling your water bottle, in public bathrooms is inherently off putting.
When I’m tired and in a comfy spot and on a roll with my essay, and probably dehydrated, I don’t feel like walking up steps or through crowded hallways to get to a drinking fountain. Especially given that chances are that the water pressure will be bad enough that you practically have to slobber all over the nozzle to get a sip. I don’t have enough self respect/concern about infectious diseases not to do that, but I’m sure it’s a barrier to others.
When I’m dehydrated I often have a low grade headache. There are also other symptoms, like tiredness and confusion. Maybe I want to work on my essay, but I just sit there, feeling fatigued and perplexed, my head in agony, knowing that dehydration is the problem, but lacking the impetus to do anything about it.
I might not have to make a ten kilometre trek for water, and I’m glad (and privileged) that that is not the case. But as I feel myself getting increasingly thirsty, head spinning, lethargy growing, water too far away to make a difference — well, I suffer slightly.

You’re probably dehydrated right now. In other places, dehydration can be deadly; that’s probably not the case for most VUW students. That’s a good thing: in the context of people who are dying from dehydration, this column might seem somewhat petty, and maybe it is. But I believe in confronting the enemy in front of you (metaphorically and peacefully, of course) first.
So give us more drinking fountains that actually work, so we can focus on the real enemies: essays, neoliberalism, climate change, and what shoes to wear tomorrow.

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