According to the World Health Organization, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas by 2025. Presently, at least two billion people globally use a drinking water source contaminated with feces. This is shocking, even more so when we consider our everyday practice of drinking bottled water and defecating into fresh tap water. This not only adds plastics to our landfills and oceans but also reveals the perversity of our relationship with water and the built environment. Most people reading this introduction can, with relatively little effort, turn on a tap and fill a glass of water, bathe or shower, and prepare a meal. Rarely do we consider the ease with which we interact with, and use, water. Only when our system of clean water distribution breaks down, such as recently in Newark, New Jersey and Flint, Michigan do we realize how dependent we really are on fresh water. Still, our relationship with water is complex.
Each February, residents of Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, dress in white and offer gifts to Iemanjá, the candomblé orixá (goddess) of the sea. Gifts range from flowers to perfume and food. One of the central deities, Iemanjá is often depicted as a plus-sized beautiful black woman dressed in blue and white. She is maternal, protecting fertility and all aspects of the sea, including a fruitful fishing catch. Bringing together people from a variety of beliefs—Catholics and members of the candomblé, as well as locals and tourists—the ritual transforms what is normally a public beach into sacred space. A month later the waters of March bring an end to the summer and a much-needed natural resource.A goddess of the ocean might be obvious in a port city like Salvador, especially given that city’s history and relationship to both Africa and Europe. In the Sonoran Desert, a water god might be a bit less apparent. Water is, however, at the core of Diné Bahane’, the Navajo creation myth. Tó Neinilii, the god of rain, is often described as a trickster and one who is pleased when an unexpected rain disrupts events. Keeping this in mind has completely changed the way I watch an August monsoon rain roll through the valley, here in Phoenix.