I Am Moved By Water: Water and the Flow Of Migrants

I am moved, even haunted, by water. For me, the sea, lakes, rivers, canals, and streams have always had a special, almost mystical, pull. I am an infrequent sailor, an abysmal paddler, and a romantic wannabe live-aboarder. My life is somehow more complete in the presence of water. And living in Dublin, I have it around me in all its many forms.

The Irish government’s soon-to-be-implemented municipal water scheme, which will have the Irish paying for the water running through their homes for the first time, got me thinking about water, where it comes from, and how we use it. But, in particular, it got me thinking about the role of water in the life of the migrant. Is it the same, or has it changed?

Many of us yearn to live by the sea. The dream of moving overseas and having a little place on the beach is a powerful fantasy. And, for centuries the ocean was the only way for migrants to relocate. It carried them away. And some were never heard from again. Either they had not the means to communicate or visit, or, on occasion tragedy struck the emigrant down even before they reached their destination. So, water, in the life of the migrant, is a motivating force, an enabling element, and often a powerful, often insurmountable, obstacle. Water, in equal measure, takes us away, delivers us safely, and punishes us for the very fantasy it inspires in us. Yet, in the life if the immigrant/emigrant there is more to it than even that.

The vast majority of modern migrants don’t move overseas to just “get by” in tiny country villages. They go for work, and the opportunities found in large cities – water cities. In times past, civilization thrived along watercourses (river cities, bays, ports, and canals) that facilitated industry and the movement of supplies and finished goods. These port towns have mostly developed into bigger cities over time, with the rivers and canals often becoming incidental as trade on motorways and through airports has taken their place. But because of what they once were, bays and confluences have long been practical destinations for migrants.

Water, now, or ancestrally, flows through the veins of emigrants, and informs many of their choices. Moving to a new city, starting again, many of us are not in a financial position to live in the nicer seaside communities. But, even as we start to unpack our treasured belongings in some inland compromise residence, our immigrant optimism casts its gaze forward, to the promise of a prosperous future, one in which we “upgrade” and move to the water. Or, in some communities, if you are new to the area and your resources are particularly limited, you may only be able to afford to live down near the water, amidst the noise and bustle of the working class port.

Dublin, as with many communities has both a working class docklands community, and wealthy waterfront enclaves. Once again the bifurcated nature of water as a goal to be sought, an enabler of work, and a form of “punishment” is all too clear.

As a result, most modern migrants are forced to think about water, and the role it will, or ought to, play in their life. How will I cross it? Will it bring me back safely someday?

And, when I arrive, will it be my punishment or my reward?

Perhaps it is simply, effortlessly, endlessly, both.

Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:

  • “Play The Skins” – Living abroad allows you to become someone “new” for a while.
  • Renting Abroad, Home Maintenance and Property Management in a Foreign Country

About Glenn Kaufmann

I'm an American freelance writer, photographer, and web publisher. I specialize in writing about travel, food, arts, and culture. I also write dramatic scripts for stage and screen. I'm based in Ireland.
This entry was posted in Emigrant/Immigrant Life, Home & A Sense of Place, Immigration & Emigration, International Moving and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to I Am Moved By Water: Water and the Flow Of Migrants

  1. If you have not seen it you might like the book BLUE MIND-ON THE BENEFITS OF BEING NEAR WATER, by Wallace J. Nichols.
    Your writing is great!!

  2. beatrizrenee says:

    Really great read and interesting to ponder water this way. As a Californian living in Ireland I have thought about water in different ways too and lately have been trying to educate myself on the water tax we will soon be paying. At first I used to think it was no big deal, after all everyone has to pay for water, right? But now I see what all the anger and frustration is about. Water is all around us and certainly plays a part in our daily lives here!

    • HI Beatrizrenee,

      Yes, as a Californian, you probably have a unique perspective on water and the individual’s rights to that natural resource. Have you read “Cadillac Desert” about the struggles over the Colorado River, and western water rights. It’s things like tat which really make you think long and hard about the decision to suddenly start charging for a natural resource.
      Well, I think we should be wary any time any government (Ireland, U.S., U.K., wherever) suddenly starts charging a tax simply because they’ve suddenly run short of cash, or because “everybody else is doing it”

      Taxaation is a much larger issue that cash flow. It speaks to social philosophy, national values, and on an on.

      Hmmm. I wasn’t going to do a post on this, but maybe there’s one in there.

      Thansk for reading and commenting. Please continue. I’d love to hear what else you have to say about water and expat life in Ireland.

  3. Lucy Davis says:

    Hope your Dublin experience is as good as mine was! Miss it now! You might like this very funny book about all the drinking and madness by night there. Back to the Gaff is the title.

  4. Lucy Davis says:

    Here is a link about the book:
    Thought you might enjoy it since you’re there!

  5. Seán says:

    just came across your blog by accident and I was looking at your early just post arrival posts and your frustration with dual taps and I was wondering if anybody ever explained this curiosity to you? Apparently it dates to a Royal Commission on Sanitation that was tasked with making recommendations about eliminating water borne illnesses – hence our high pressure sanitised cold water riser and the header tank in the attic which cannot be regarded as potable because of the possibility of contamination (by bird, bat and rodent droppings and their occasional carcasses). Mixing teh two supplies would cause cross contamination. I know it is historical but history sticks.

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