January 19, 2010 certainly did prove to be a day of enlightenment for 204 of the 135 million people celebrating the Russian Orthodox day of Epiphany. In Irkutsk, Siberia, home to Valentin Rasputin (author of To Live and Remember), many gathered to worship and to become illuminated from within by the grace of God.
It is a well known fact that Russia’s tap water is not fit for consumption, be it man or even man’s best friend, and the countries wells support the public, usually without issue. Wells sitting outside cathedrals are blessed by Priests and offered to the congregation in times of Communion or religious holidays, such as Epiphany. However, on this typically frigid day of Epiphany, after drinking from the just blessed well outside of the Epiphany Cathedral in the center of Irkutsk, many manifested not the word of God, but rather something as equally powerful – the symptoms of E-coli, Cryptosporidium partum, or any other unforgiving bacteria living within the well water.
117 people were rushed to hospital, 48 of them children. According to Vladimir Salovarov, a spokesman for the Irkutsk Investigative Committee, it is still too early to determine the exact cause. Irkutsk is not an uncommon city where drinkable water is scarce; with 1.1 billion people on this planet without proper drinking water, many of us in the free world blindly take for granted what it is like to have such basic luxuries. Each year, an average of 1.8 million people die from waterborne disease. The crises in Haiti has the world scrambling to provide aide, but I’m left wondering what we, ordinary citizens that lead ordinary lives, can do to help the mass of the world.
Normally, Holy water cleanses the spirit, not the body, and these poor souls are struggling with the very palatable revelation of our global crisis. As consumers neglect to dispose of average household hazardous materials (such as motor oil, cleaning products, and garden pesticides), chemicals are drained into our own drinking water supply. Though Irkutsk, Siberia is half a world away in location to my own city, their misfortune serves as a reminder to me as to how I can act locally, and think globally.