What It Means To Boil Water

at the spring

“There is a prevailing theory that we need to know much more than we do in order to feed ourselves well.  It isn’t true.  

Most of us already have water, a pot to put it in, and a way to light a fire.  

This gives us boiling water, in which we can do more good cooking than we know.”  

-Tamar Adler, An Everlasting Meal

These words from Tamar Adler’s book crept into my heart last year.  She perfectly describes the humility of boiling a pot of water to prepare a meal… any meal, from plain boiled potatoes to creamy lobster pasta.  Just boil water.  Start there.  The result will be divine, no matter what.

I’ve carried that sentiment around for the past year, sometimes (more often than not) setting aside the beautiful simplicity of boiling water for things like Chocolate Orange and Pistachio Cinnamon Rolls.

I suppose it took some time for Tamar’s words to settle into my system, but I’m thankful they did.  Today I learned what it really means to boil water from a little girl named Kevin, and her sister Christine.

getting water with kevin

Kevin is a serious little girl.  She makes you work hard for the telltale signs of childish joy that I’m used to seeing in nine year olds.  Her heart is heavy.  Her mother is mentally ill and frequently abandons her.  Stability hasn’t been a constant for her and that burden sometimes trumps her the joy inside.  It’s there though… oh, it’s in there.

what it means to boil water 1

Kevin’s sister Christine is one of my favorite kinds of people:  she’s quick to laugh and has the most beautiful smile.  She’s a natural caretaker.  You can see it in the way she glides from hut to hut sweeping up, washing up, cooking up, and adoring her husband, son, and sister.  She’s effortless, easy, and  has a graceful heart full of kindness.

I remember visiting Tracy‘s house last November for Thanksgiving.  Tracy is the spot of welcome and calm when festivities pulse around her.  I found that same peace a continent away in Christine.  That grace is universal.

How much grace do you need to boil water?  Well…. a lot.  It’s a journey that starts with an empty castor oil jug, a long walk, a mud stove, and ends in a cup of tea and cookies.  It’s more than a hike for hot water and cookies, it’s about a beautiful and loving life.

I have to tell you about this.

kevin's house 

 Boiling water starts here.  It starts here by first going away from here; a 2 kilometer walk to the nearest fresh water spring.

kevin getting water

After a good haul from home we reach the fresh spring.  It’s been built up to support the community that surrounds it.  This is the dry season, but the locals say that the rainy season, this is a rushing water source.

Kevin goes in, like she does every morning, to fill the jug.


The road back home is filled with edibles!

Castor beans are pressed for cooking oil.  The last of the corn harvest is dried in the sun.  Papayas are piling up!  Sorghum grain!

doing the dishes

Can I just tell you what this day feels like?  It’s warm enough outside to feel the sun tempting my skin with a sunburn.  The grass is just losing its morning fresh feel and starting to warm for the day.  The breeze, especially in the shade of Christine’s thatched roof house, is worth living for.  And in that… Christine washes the dishes with all the water brought back from the spring.

Christine’s kitchen is the mud hut behind her.  Inside, light shines down from the edges of the thatched roof, empty water jugs line one corner,  fire wood branches lean against another corner, a small wood-fire burner built into a third corner heats the entire room, and even though the floors are made of mud… it’s impeccably clean.

Kitchens are always my favorite room in a house.  I could sit in Christine’s doorway, hiding from the sun but heated by the stove at my back all day.


This metal bowl looks like it has met with a few bumps, stones, and flames along the way. The rim is dinged and the sides charred black.

boiling water

And just like that, care is forged.

the stove

Breakfast, lunch, and supper emerge bubbling and warm from this mud stove.  Every day a new fire. Every day a new bowl of boiling water.

It’s simple, earnest, and exactly what it should be.

tea time

I love the happy anticipation that a plate of cookies and clean empty mugs brings.

washing hands

Water for hands, naturally and of course.


‘It’s not time for cookies until I get back and pour the tea, so don’t even think about it,’ said every mom ever.

making tea

A spoonful of sugar to go around,

tea time

and warm mugs of sweet black tea for everyone.

It’s a simple snack that at its heart is about comfort and gathering.  A moment in the day to sit, be, and enjoy a little sweet.

So what does it mean to boil water?  Just everything.  It’s nourishment in the beans Christine simmers for dinner.  It’s comfort in the tea she serves every morning for breakfast.  It’s community when her cousins and mother-in-law come from across the way for a visit.  It’s an afternoon snack tradition.  It’s cleanliness.  It’s supper.  It really is everything!

christine and goat

Kevin is one of 281 children nurtured by Compassion here in Lira, Uganda.  She’s slowly emerging from under life’s burdens through the care, education, access to health care, good food, and prayer she receives at school.  Because of special gifts from Kevin’s sponsor, the family was also able to purchase a goat.  The goats provide milk (and other goats) to the family.  Nourishment they can take in.  Milk and baby goats they can sell to market.  Care for the entire family.  Not only does Compassion nurture Kevin through education and spiritual growth, Compassion also nurtures the people that care for Kevin.  Real, tangible support.  It works.  It’s really cool.

If something as simple as boiling water can mean so much, just imagine what kind of impact our combined care support will have on families around the world.

More from Uganda from Chatting at the Sky, The Nester, Jeff Goins, and Shaun Groves.

Compassion provided me a link to share with you.  I am in no way compensated for your sponsorship or donation.  I love you and I’m glad you’re here with me on this journey.  

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68 thoughts on “What It Means To Boil Water

  1. Thanks for sharing the lovely story! My mum is from Indonesia and would always boil our drinking water even though we lived in Australia and other countries and there was no need too. It was nearly in my teens when my dad really insisted that there was no need to boil the water.

  2. I love this, and especially the quote that begins it… my husband recently asked me to teach him how to cook, and I told him his first lesson would be about boiling water. He laughed, not realizing how essential an element of life it truly is.
    Thank you for this, and all that you write, see, say and do.

  3. Joy, having just returned from a life changing trip to Senegal on the West coast of the continent, I fully understand the idea of what it means to ____________ (insert any ability we take for granted). I hope you are having a wonderful journey, it seems as though you are. And the only advice I will give you is that they say the culture shock coming home is much worse and I am living/lived tha.

  4. Thank you for this glimpse in the lives of this family. I find myself pouring over all of the details, trying to imagine the similarities that may be found in the lives of our four Compassion children (and one Compassion grandchild) in Uganda. The little things make up the picture.

    Praying for you all as you continue your trip!

  5. Thank you for writing about Kevin and her family. I feel like I have a way better understanding of the work of your organization. I also appreciate that you have given me a window into what this community’s culture is like.

  6. Thank you, Joy. This post brought back a lot of memories of being a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa. I remember sitting outside on a mat in the shade from the intensity of the sun, even in January, enjoying tea with my host family.

  7. Such a great post! You have painted such a beautiful picture of what Compassion does with a simple analogy. Beautiful photos, writing, and encouragement for us all. Thank you for sharing!

  8. Amazing post. There are so many organizations out there where you donate money and have no idea how its used (or misused). Its amazing to see the meaningful difference Compassion makes in the lives of the people you met in Uganda as well as seeing that life can still be tidy and beautiful with so much less stuff. Even with mud floors, a simple well-worn metal pot and mismatched mugs her morning breakfast scene is as lovely as anything I’ve seen in myriad food blogs or magazines. Excited to see more pictures/stories from your trip :)

  9. Joy, your words and way to describe this day are so beautiful. Thank you for writing for the rest of us back here. Praying you through your week!

  10. Joy, this is beyond beautiful. An Everlasting Meal is a book that changed my life in the weirdest way, and the chapter on boiling water was the catalyst. Seeing it fleshed out in Uganda makes me smile, grateful you’re there, sharing through the lens that only you can. I’ve been reading you since your first post, and this is my favorite by a mile. Which is really saying something. Thanks for showing up.

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