Ever think about water? I mean really think about water? When I was little, probably 7 or 8, it dawned on me that the earth’s water was the same water now as it was when the earth was created. No more, no less. I used to wonder where MY water had been before over the ages? I think I was in second grade when I wrote a story about a single drop of water and its life.
Think about the water that’s in that glass. Who drank that water before? Whose sweat was it in the past? (A gross thought). How deep was the deepest it had ever been in the ocean? How high had it been in the atmosphere? Was this the first time I had met each of these molecules? Had I met any of them before? How far away did any of those molecules get that I’d met before I met them again??? All those molecules that all traveled around the globe independently now coalesced into one glass in my hand! What was the collective tale that this glass of water could tell????? And all you have to do to trigger these reflections is turn on the tap. Well, here where I live that’s all you have to do.
In many other parts of the world, water is something that is come by somewhat differently. Let’s talk about the water where I was in Africa, shall we? Out in the bush, there’s no indoor plumbing. Water is obtained from rivers and wells. It’s amazing how your whole approach to something, like water appreciation, changes based on whatever set of circumstances you might find yourself in. (Note: If you’ve never read Dune, you should. It has a fascinating way to deal with water as a precious commodity. And, if you’ve never seen the critically panned but i think awesome movie, Water World, you should. Soil is what is precious in it. Take the easily accessible and ubiquitous and make it something more precious and hard to come by, and your whole thinking changes.) Water.
We were pretty lucky at most of the five locations we stayed in this summer in Africa. Those five places were as follows: the TMI base in Ndola, and (in the bush) the rescue units in Chiwala, Lupya, Lufwanyama, and Kansoka. The TMI base actually was hooked up to the city water system, and the water was drinkable, right from the tap. IF there was any water coming through the pipes when you turned the tap on, that is. The water was most plentiful at night, when the city was largely asleep. During the day, if you needed water, you might not get any. So planning ahead was a really good idea….collect water at night for use during the day.
Chiwala had a very nice pump. And the pump was close, within 100 yards of our camp. But the water was red. Full of dirt. We’d brought a filter from the states that was supposed to turn ANY water, regardless of its condition, into potable water. I didn’t believe it. We’d run five gallons of this red water through the filter and the water would start to come out pink on the other end.
Yup. That’s been filtered once.
If dirt was getting through that filter, then so were bacteria and viruses. Stuff that could cause dysentery, cholera, yellow fever, and the like. But it was a good deep well, so none of that stuff was probably in there. Still, it made me nervous. But we enjoyed the plentiful nature of the water in Chiwala. Which was a good thing. It takes a lot of water to keep nearly 30 people with enough water to drink and cook with, let alone with which to do laundry and to bathe.
On to Lupya. We had two sources for water there. There was a shallow open well (looked like a small lake of green water) about a tenth of a mile from camp that held ice cold water we could use for bathing and laundry, but it was completely unsuitable for drinking. The second source was a government pump, fully two miles from camp. Each day, sometimes twice a day, half of the team would put an empty five gallon bucket on their head, and bring it back full (yes, on their heads).
Front to back that’s Kellie Rock, Jessica Cartwright, Hannah Oliver, and Rebecca Shang
That water was much cleaner looking than the red water of Chiwala. But it was still full of dirt and sediment that was gray. The filter died. Blew it’s housing. Which was fine with me. I had really wanted to boil water from the very beginning anyway. We strained the water through layers of gauze and then boiled it over one of the braziers. To boil it, the fire had to be very hot. It takes a good amount of time, and a good amount of charcoal to get 5 gallons of water to a full and rolling boil. AND it has to boil for 15 minutes. Once it had boiled, if time and availability of pots permitted, we’d set the pot aside (and put a new pot on) to cool. Once it had stopped boiling, the dirt could settle to the bottom. Then we’d pour off the good water into the big yellow and red Igloo. I also had two large buckets of kitchen water which needed to be kept full. Since the Igloo kept all that water nice and hot as designed, everyone tried to remember to fill their canteens at bedtime so that they’d have nice cold water to drink in the morning. If they forgot, it was hot water for them until the Igloo cooled, which it never really did.
Our third location was Lufwanyama. “Lufy” had a gorgeous deep well that a Teen Missions team had dug a few years prior. The water that came out of that well was probably drinkable as is, but we boiled it anyway, to be on the safe side. This well was open to the entire community to use.
That’s me pulling water out of the very deep well in Lufwanyama
I imagine that once that well was put in that water borne illnesses were reduced significantly. The road to the well meandered past “my kitchen”, so there were endless smiles and greetings for me throughout the day. And the well was close, so no more four mile round trips to get water.
Our final rescue unit was located at Kansoka. Kansoka, like Lupya, had two water sources. Another deep well, and a river. The well water was used for drinking/cooking, and the river water for bathing and laundry. Prior to the digging of the well by last year’s Teen Missions team, the river was the only water source. No matter how clean river water looks, you have to just imagine how dirty it is. (Think about all the people upstream using it for all sorts of purposes!) And gastrointestinal sickness was common. Once the well was dug, the sickness stopped.
As you previously read, I took a bath once a week. One of the reasons for that was the difficulty of getting water, and the coldness of the water. It was just too much of a pain to bother. And bathing in nearly ice cold water is, well, not relaxing! The whole process of water acquisition and bathing preparation was too labor intensive to bother with until absolutely necessary. Even laundry (except for kitchen linens) was something that was done rarely. It almost seemed pointless when the wash water was black after just a few items, and the rinse water only slightly less black. I went for getting the stink out and leaving the stain, but was always amazed at just how much dirt a few articles of clothing can hold. Thursdays were “Sheema Days” for us. At each of the rescue units, once a week, we’d eat “African Style”. Because making food on Sheema Days was so much less labor intensive, Thursdays became my bath and sometimes laundry day. You might find it humorous to note that you can pretty much tell what location we are at by what I am wearing. In Lufwanyama it was this blue shirt, and blue and green chitenge with yellow polka dotted pajama pants underneath!
The bucket on the left is clothes needing to be washed, the one in the middle is wash water, the one on the right is rinse water. Well, the clothes SMELLED clean when I was done!
(Note: When we arrived in London for a two night’s stay before returning to the U.S., we stayed in a sparse, but clean hotel. “Are the rooms en suite?” I asked when I checked us all in? THEY WERE! A bathroom in every room! I drew myself a nice hot bath as soon as I could and sank into the water. And I started to scrub. It wasn’t until my third bath and scrub that the ring of dirt in the bathtub mostly disappeared. I probably should have taken a fourth bath to really be clean, but I was getting pruny. And besides, there was the next day and the tub and the water would still be there.)
I am home now. If I want water, I turn on a tap, and there it is. If I want it hot, all I do is move a handle or adjust a knob. Two weeks ago I didn’t even use water to brush my teeth. Today, I let the water run and disappear down the drain while I brushed…Two weeks ago I didn’t start to feel dirty (even though I was covered in charcoal dust and smelled like frying onions) for about five days. I have taken a shower every single day since I’ve been home. Today every load of laundry I did I ran through the rinse cycle twice, to make sure it was good and rinsed, even though none of that laundry I did would have even qualified as dirty two weeks ago.