Broadly, the topics that interest me are water, health, and leadership. Specifically, I'm focused on changing conversations around the true value of ocean, lakes, rivers, and wildlife; adoption, wellness, and emotional health; leadership, change, creativity, and neuroscience. Oh, and sea turtles.
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I recently caught up with Georgie Badiel, Peter Reynolds, and Susan Verde, the team responsible for the beautiful book The Water Princess, based on supermodel Georgie Badiel’s childhood, in which a young girl dreams of bringing clean drinking water to her African village.
We discussed our relationship to and thoughts about water.
Their insights are remarkable.
J: What is your water? (Don’t overthink this, go with the first water that comes to mind).
G: My water is my basic human right.
S: My water is the ocean, specifically where I live but really everywhere.
J: What’s your earliest memory of water?
G: My earliest memory of water was when I was eight years old. It wasn't pleasant to go fetch the water. The pot was so heavy on my head.
P: Being washed in a tub on the kitchen table of our house.
S: I remember going to the beach when I was five or six and holding hands with my dad as we stood at the edge of the water. I can recall exactly my feeling of fear and excitement. The waves were so big and my dad was so big. The crashing of the water on the shore was incredibly loud. My dad would lift me high over the foam. I couldn’t wait to be able to get in there by myself. It’s a moment I often think of when I think about my father and our summers in the Hamptons.
J: When you haven’t seen or felt water for a long time, how does it feel to reconnect?
G: It feels like you just get complete. Water makes you live again.
P: It feels like arms wide open – a waiting embrace.
S: The ocean beach is the place I return to again and again when I need time to reflect or clear my head or spend quality time with my family. When I have been far from water for a time returning literally feels like a giant hug, like a sigh of relief. Even if I can’t go in it just seeing it and exploring it with my other senses helps me to know that things are alright in the world…in my world. Water has no judgment.
J: When was the last time you were completely submerged in water (not in your bathroom)? What was the name of the water?
G: The last body of water I was in was the West African side of the Atlantic Ocean.
P: Inside: I was in a pool in a Chicago hotel. Outside: In Cape Cod Bay in Brewster, MA.
S: The last time I was submerged in water was at the end of the summer. It was part of the Atlantic Ocean in Montauk, NY called White Sands Beach. I spent the afternoon swimming and diving waves while my son surfed.
J: We can all describe our lives through the list of places we have lived. Mine goes something like: NYC, Chicago, rural Indiana, North Carolina, Boston, Jamaica, Seattle, Arizona, Mexico, San Francisco…but we can also describe our lives through the names of the waterways we lived on or near. Try that.
G: I have lived in Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Paris, London, New York, South Africa... I have always been impressed by how the water can flow so easily in Paris, London and New York.
J: So, your water story flows through Volta, Niger, Gulf of Guinea, Atlantic, Seine, Thames, Hudson to the Indian and Atlantic Oceans…
P: Lake Ontario, Boston Harbor, Charles River, Russell Mill Pond, Motherbrook Canal.
S: I have lived near the East River, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean. I have briefly lived by the Seine and dipped in the Mediterranean Sea.
J: What’s something you know about water that you wish everyone understood?
G: What I know about water is what I think everyone knows but we don't often think about it. Water is life. Humans and any living creature will not survive without water.
PR: There are more than 326 million trillion gallons of water on Earth. Less than 3% of all this water is freshwater and of that amount, more than two-thirds is locked up in ice caps and glaciers. Polluting, squandering it is not an option with so many thirsty people on our planet.
S: The power of water runs deep (pardon the pun)! It is life sustaining. It is therapy. It is metaphor. It is connection. Water is a necessity for mind, body and spirit. I wish everyone knew this about water. I have seen first hand how water can help a child who struggles with focus and self-esteem in daily life to be incredibly present and full of joy. I have experienced how the idea of single waves crashing but continuing their journey as part of a bigger body of water has helped to overcome a fear of death and create an understanding of how we are like the waves…connected to something bigger. I have seen how water is imperative for survival. If people really knew these things they might be more proactive about conserving, caring for and helping others have access to water. Water is love.
J: I often sign my letters with “I wish you water”. What does that phrase mean to you?
G: To me " I wish you water" means to wish all humans and all living creatures to have access to clean water.
P: I wish you life. I wish you health. I wish you all that is good. “I wish you water” is also a reminder that there are so many on the planet whose wish for water is not granted daily.
S: To me, that phrase means I wish you a full life.
J: Thank you.
Inspired by the childhood of African–born model Georgie Badiel, acclaimed author Susan Verde and award-winning author/illustrator Peter H. Reynolds have come together to tell this moving story, The Water Princess. As a child in Burkina Faso, Georgie and the other girls in her village had to walk for miles each day to collect water. This vibrant, engaging picture book sheds light on this struggle that continues all over the world today, instilling hope for a future when all children will have access to clean drinking water.
Dr. Wallace “J” Nichols is a scientist, wild water advocate, movement maker and father. He’s the author of the New York Times Bestseller Blue Mind.
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