Friday, September 26, 2014

In Want of Water

On Monday we returned to our villages, three weeks of hotel living under our belts. The most striking differences between hotel life and village living are having electricity versus my paraffin lamp, meals made for me versus cooking on my two burner stove, English versus Sesotho, and most noticeably, water.

At the hotels we had en suite bathrooms with the usual amenities, pools, and potable water easily found everywhere. We could even send our laundry out, for a cost, if doing it in the sink was too taxing.

Flash forward to present day, my water sits in three buckets carried from the tap ten minutes away. Before drinking, I must boil it for three minutes then filter it. Two of my buckets have old water from before consolidation, which is reserved for washing because it sat around too long to cook with but is to valuable to simply pour on the ground. Tomorrow I will do laundry by bringing my wash basins and clothes down a hill to a natural spring.

Being conservative with and aware of water usage us not new to me. When I was sailing, it was a huge part of my everyday life. Voyage planning required an awareness of how long the tanks would last. Each program we stressed the importance of conserving water. There were times that people on board were not smart about water usage and the Captain and I would have to change our itinerary to resupply.

Since returning home, my awareness of water and its impact has only increased. Although Butha Buthe is not considered a dry district and it usually does not face water shortages, last year there was less rain than usual.

Lesotho typically has dry winters followed by rainy summers. There is not much of a spring or fall. Last year's drought means now that winter is ending, the water supply is low.

Twice this week my host Me has said we need rain. The chief shared his concern for his kids (the goat kind), because their digestive systems are not matured enough for the dry brown grass currently available. At work we reached a stopping point with our gardening project because the ground is to dry for seeds to sprout. Although there is a water pump nearby, it has been intermittent so we don't want to use it for income generating crops when people need that water at home.

Today our village hosted its monthly clinic. The local hospital comes on the fourth Friday to see patients, teach mothers about health, weigh and vaccinate children, train the village healthcare workers, and offer HIV testing and counseling. At the end of the day I learned this was to be our last clinic in the village. The water supply around the hospital has dried up, so they are now having to reallocate vehicle and human resources to getting water from further and further away.

While my villagers can walk an hour to another village's outreach clinic on the third Friday of the month, my village is more centralized to other rural villages. I worry if the villagers who were already traveling to come here will make the trip to the further away village. I always thought of medical services being restricted by lack of funding or lack of qualified providers, not lack of water.

As I write this, the third loud and aggressive thunderstorm is punctuating my thoughts and thumping like a subwoofer. The other two storms teased with beautiful lightning and even wind shifts, but no rain. During the three weeks I was gone, it was the same. Will this one finally give us the rain we need?

So now that I have returned to village life, I do not miss the flushing toilets or hot showers, buckets from the pump suit me fine. What I am hoping for is water to resupply our dry soil so these subsidence farmers can plant the crops that will feed them for the next year and so the hospital can continue to offer services to those who cannot afford the taxi ride to medical care.

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You should choose as your life's work whatever feels the most like play.
-Harvey Oxenhorn