The Odd Ways Things Work Overseas

I want to share a personal story to alert you to things you might encounter during your stay abroad that you will find new and odd.  It involves the Abu Dhabi water system.

Abu Dhabi–the city–is on a sandy island in the Persian/Arabian Gulf.  It’s only a few feet above sea level, and it gets very little rain.  The municipal water supply comes from desalination–taking the salt (and other stuff) out of sea water.  During my time in Abu Dhabi, there wasn’t enough water produced by this method to provide water pressure in all the pipes throughout the city.  In America, when I open a water faucet, water comes out because it is under pressure.  I can leave the faucet open all day, and still the water comes out in a seemingly inexhaustable stream.  (And the water bill goes through the roof.)  In Abu Dhabi, as in many places overseas, if you leave the faucet on overnight, you’ll have no water in the morning.  I will explain.

The city distributes the water in different parts of the city at different hours.  Each house has two water tanks, a big one on the ground and a smaller one on the roof.  Each tank has a float valve that says “give me more” when the water level drops.  The bottom tank can only get more water from the city’s pipes when there is water in the pipes.  So our house in Abu Dhabi had a switch in the kitchen to turn on a pump at the bottom tank to fill it.  We didn’t know what the switch was for, and we suffered for it until we found out.  Once we knew, we had a timer installed.

So, to keep water flowing, we had to have A) both tanks in clean and working condition, B) both float valves working, and C) both pumps, top and bottom, plugged in and working.  And this system had to move water from the city’s pipes into the bottom tank during a certain span of  time each day, or the top tank would empty and not be refilled.  This arrangement also means that when the electricity goes out, so does the water supply.

Finally, water pressure is whatever gravity provides, from the roof tank to the faucet or shower head.

I can’t wait to hear your favorite stories.

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