In the late 1990s the water stopped flowing from the kitchen faucet in Mexico City. Totally and completely stopped.
Whoops. What now?
Working methodically from the problem, I unscrewed the filter on the faucet. It wasn't uncommon for odd bits of gunk or leaves to block the flow. But not this time.
Under the sink I checked that the turn-off knobs were still on. At least I thought they were, but nothing in Mexico ever was certain. I've seen pipes installed backwards, upside down or simply left unconnected. There was also the language issue. In English USA a faucet is marked C, is for cold water. In Mexico it might indicate "caliente" or hot. Depends on how you view the letter C.
Checking the emergency turn-off knob outside the house was still on or appeared to be, I went with the last possibility I could imagine. Was water was coming from the street? It was.
Stumped, it was time to call a plumber. Now there was another problem, which one? Neither we nor my many friends had much luck with plumbers. So throwing caution to the wind, I looked at the recommendations in the Newcomers Club Survival Guide, a sort of an Angie's List for the English-speaking foreigners in Mexico City.
With my finger hovering over the landline home phone I called the highly recommended Señor Plumber. He brought hope to my heart when he said he could come right now, but only if my issue was an emergency--which meant I'd have to pay emergency premium prices. What choice did I have? He had me over a dry tap.
When Señor Plumber arrived he came with a young assistant trailing behind him carrying tools. Probing the cantankerous faucet like an ER doctor, Señor Plumber barked orders to the assistant who respectably responded "Sì Maestro." Yes, Master, or Teacher.
Señor Plumber was ready with his diagnosis. "Es muy chocolate."
My Spanish wasn't bad, but saying that the water was very chocolate was beyond my understanding. So consulting with my household staff, Maria, I learned that it meant the water had a lot of slime and gunk that, like melted chocolate, was gumming up the pipes.
In the infrastructurally-challenged world of Mexico City water flowed intermittently through pipes that were often broken, leaking water out and/or contaminants in, so the clever Mexicans had a simple fix. The plastic or cement, jacuzzi-sized cistern. Located atop the roof, an electric pump would run to fill the cistern when the electricity was working. When the water was needed, gravity would take over the job to feed the water through the house's pipes.
But due to the influx of filthy city water, our cisterns had a layer of silt deep enough to root and grow plants, including small trees--bringing a new context to the term kitchen garden. Señor Plumber admonished me that I had to have the cistern cleaned every 3-6 months. Who was I to disagree after I'd see the yuck in mine?
It occurred to me that this was the very same water that we used for showering, washing dishes and clothes. The soon-to-be-functioning kitchen faucet water would first go through a four-stage filtration and sterilization system that would kill off the bacteria and other nasties. We'd installed it within days in the Mexico City house, knowing from three years with the very same system in Guayaquil, Ecuador how effective the system was.
The water was so pure that I developed a dislike of most American tap water tasting like someone dropped Clorox into it which is why I always request a couple of lemon slices for water in restaurants.