September 7, 2011
I have had much to think about lately, but many of my thoughts have been about water. In America, I think we take the availability of fresh, clean drinking water for granted. If you are thirsty, you are able to turn on the tap and fill a glass and drink. However, in many parts of the world, that is not the case. As Elizabeth and I traveled across the flat, dry Arusha highlands, I began to realize just what it means to have no water. Most of the Arusha plains seemed to be just dust fields dotted with dry scrub brush and fragmented by barren river beds, which will rapidly carry away any rain that happens to fall, because it has nowhere else to go.
Finding water during the dry season is the most important daily chore and everything else revolves around that task. Going to school is not an option for many children during this time, because they must herd the cattle, donkeys and goats to the water holes. When they find one, they join the others filling their buckets and jugs at one end, while the animals wade in the water and drink at the other. The water hole is no more than a large mud puddle, yet for most people in this region, it is water for drinking, for bathing, for cooking, and for washing clothes. That muddy, green, bacterial infested, parasite-laden water is life.
Fidesta recently returned home for term break. Her school happens to be far out on the Arusha plain. With more than 1000 students and no water, the administrators had no choice but to close school early. She told us how difficult it was to obtain water. Water holes in this region are carefully guarded by the Masai people. Students are allowed to fetch water only once a week: boys on Saturday and girls on Sunday. The water holes are several kilometers from school and students must never go without a guardian. If the Masai are there with their animals, students must wait until the animals have finished drinking before filling their buckets. Sometimes the Masai decide that there is not enough water to share and they chase the students away. Fidesta buys bottled water at the school shop for drinking because she is afraid of disease, but she uses the dirty water in her bucket for bathing and washing clothes. She describes her daily micro bath as “passport picture size” bathing. The school toilets are flush toilets which are no longer flushed. She said that it is so unpleasant to use them that many students have begun going outside in the bush. At night when it is not safe to go out, many just go inside on the floor.
As thoughts of cholera, dysentery, and typhoid ran through my head, I asked Fidesta if she wanted to shift schools again, but she said it was too late, and despite the problems there, she said that Longido does well with academics. They have teachers, and the teachers actually enter the classroom and teach. She likes her school and she wants to stay. I searched through my first aid kit and found some water purification tablets. I gave her every pack of wet wipes and hand sanitizer that I had left. Then I prayed that the rains would come again soon and that God would keep her safe.
Conditions like this may seem appalling and unusual, but lack of clean water is a problem faced by many people throughout the developing world. The next time you flush a toilet, water your lawn or get up in the night to get a drink, thank God for this blessing and say a prayer for the men and women and children who suffer because they lack clean water to drink.