Saturday, October 8, 2011

Water, water … where is the water?

Before coming to South Africa (SA), I knew that access to water would be an issue.  In many respects, I have thus far been lucky to have had relatively easy access to water, even though in none of the three homes in which I have stayed has there been consistent running water that is drinkable.  The first home did not have running water at all.  The second home had running water, but it was available (i.e., turned on) only between ~10pm and 9am, and often not at all.  The third home where we are currently staying has running water in the host family’s kitchen, but the pressure is variable, it is very salty, and everyone advises that we not drink it.  We do not have indoor water at all in our house in the back of the lot behind our host family.

In most locations, the municipality provides water around the village and this is the drinking water for most people.  Drinkable water can take on many definitions depending on to whom you are talking.  Locals, of course, drink the municipal-provided water from taps in individual yards or from public taps around the community. Some people even drink the salty water (which comes from private bore holes), although most do not.  Some drink untreated water from the river (but really shouldn’t if they paid attention to all the cows, goats, sheep, and heaven knows what else wade throughout such waters).  John and I hold out for the municipal-provided water and even then, we boil it and put it through a Britta filter.  We originally boiled it for 3 minutes as per the PC instructions, but have lessened the boiling time without any known repercussions.  Some PCVs have dropped the boiling and/or filtering activities altogether and are still around to talk about it, but we haven’t gotten desperate or brave enough to risk it.

Many of the towns throughout SA are working on providing a reliable water source to the families, but the infrastructure to do so is greatly lacking and unreliable, and the process is slow going.  The locals seem to take it in stride and don’t stress when their own water supply gets low and they have to go looking elsewhere for drinkable water.  Many families have a JoJo tank next to their house which they attempt to keep full throughout the year … well, at least the more responsible people do.  Water in the JoJo is either collected rain water or is municipal-water collected at times when the water is free-flowing.

Our current family has two JoJo tanks, one which is full of local salty water (somewhat good for bathing, laundry, etc. if you don’t mind feeling icky all the time, which is about the only option we have) and the other which is intended for drinking water but which is currently empty.  Therefore, once every week or two our buckets of drinking water supply runs low and we have to plead with the family for replenishment.  This involves the host mother or one of her sons jumping in their truck and driving around the village checking out randomly placed public water spickets to see which if any are currently turned on and then filling a supply of 3-gallon buckets.  We’d be glad to resupply our own water, but we don’t have any kind of vehicle for transport (not even a wheelbarrow), and sometimes they have to travel as much as +2 miles away to find a source of water.  Now that rainy season is upon us,  I'll consider setting out many of our own small buckets to collect some fresh rain water!

Given the local circumstances, a popular occupation around here and other villages is being a water supplier.  There are numerous industrious young men who with several barrels, a wagon, and a team of donkeys travel around the villages supplying water.  The boys seem to be constantly busy and enjoying themselves, although I can’t say the same for the little donkeys. 

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