by Drew Denzin, Ololulunga, Kenya
Our daily usage of water is extremely low compared with use in the United States. We have no running water and no flushing toilet, so we conserve quite a bit of water. In the morning, we brush our teeth using one cup of water, wash our faces with about two cups of water (we both use the same water), and are off to school. At school there also is no running water. Tea is served at 11 a.m., then we are home for lunch. We drink water (or Kool-Aid) with lunch, then return to teach. At night we cook with water (boiling noodles, rice, etc.) as well as boil water for bathing. We take the boiling water and add cold water until it is nice and warm, then splash-bathe using three gallons of water each. We collect the bath water and kitchen water in buckets to use it for watering our garden, so we reuse as much as possible.
Our community is much like us in terms of water usage. Our neighbors may go to the river to bathe or wash clothes. Water is scarce and it is safer to drink soda or tea rather than the river water. Everyone relies on rainwater for watering crops, and only the rich can afford to collect and store rainwater for personal use.
by Kendall Rondeau, Miharati, Kenya
Water here is precious. Yet people still continue to waste it. They seem to feel that—since there are so many rivers flowing year round—it's an unlimited source. They aren't thinking of the people downstream who are suffering because those up stream are taking too much.
I have tap water and a flush toilet. I find myself using a lot of water because I have a constant (and easy) source. We use water here just as in America—for drinking, cooking, cleaning dishes, laundry, and cleaning the house. We also use water in our garden to keep our vegetable and tree seedlings alive when there's no rain.
There are times when water from the tap does not come. That's when I put on my big and bulky gum boots and walk down to the river. I scramble down the muddy bank and get in the river. I can feel the cold temperature through my boots. I ladle pots of water into the 15-liter jug (mtungi) until it's full. Then I struggle back up the bank with the heavy mtungi. I huff and puff the short distance to my house while my amused neighbors smile at me. I've found that I can survive on much less water when I have to fetch it—it is such tiring work. I use one bucket of water to wash dishes and another to rinse. That water can then be used to water the garden or soak dirty clothes!
by John and Kim Shumlansky, Mount. Kenya National Forest, Kenya
The water in our area is plentiful and thus we do not spend a lot of our day collecting, carrying, or conserving water. We have a tap that brings water directly into our home, and so we can wash clothes, water plants, and clean the dishes and the house using little of the day engaged in obtaining water.
Although the community water source is fairly clean, the stream could still contain bacteria and other microorganisms that can cause disease. We therefore drink and cook only with rainwater that we collect from the roof of our home. We collect the rainwater in a tank and then carry it inside where we boil and cool it before drinking. Most people in our village do not have rain tanks, so they must rely on the water systems as their only source of water. Some of the villagers boil their drinking water, but some are confident enough to drink right from the tap.
Our school gets its water from a piped water system similar to the one in Kangaita. The source of the water is a stream that runs through a neighboring community. The water is therefore much dirtier, often dark brown, and more likely to contain disease-causing organisms. Students use this water for cleaning purposes and bathing, but normally walk to a nearby groundwater source to collect the much cleaner water for drinking.
by Melissa Perry, Oyugis, Kenya
Before I came to Kenya to live as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I never gave much thought to the water I used in the States. I just knew that if I needed water, all I had to do was turn on the faucet and there was safe, clean drinking water. Since I've come to Kenya, I understand more clearly what a luxury it is to have clean running water. In Kenya, I get my water from a spring. If there hasn't been much rain, the water comes from a river nearby. I pay a boy 15 shillings (about 20 cents) to fetch the water from the spring. He brings the water in two 20-gallon containers; the containers are placed on the back of his bicycle. The bike ride from the spring to town where I live is about two miles. He does this job every day and he makes around 10 to 15 trips a day. Therefore he earns around 150 to 225 shillings a day, which equals around 2 to 3 dollars. After I receive the water, I have to boil it in order to have drinking water. Most people in my town get their water this way.
by Bryce Sitter, Mobile Clinic, Kajiado, Kenya
At a nearby technical school, students can learn a trade—metal work, plumbing, or carpentry. They live in dormitories, as they might in the States, but here they are given one to two buckets of water in a week. Imagine how much water you use to bathe, wash your clothes, drink, and keep your dorm clean. The terrain is very dry and dusty. We have dust devils (miniature tornadoes) that spin through town and throw a dry "moon dust" everywhere. The soil is red and dirties clothes quickly. I reside at the district hospital, where we can clean only once or twice in a week due to water shortages. There are no toilets that can be flushed, and sanitation is a major problem. We use heavy solvents and cleaners to clean blood, sheets, and pit latrines. If you come to the hospital to deliver a baby or get stitches, you bring your own water. When you go to a restaurant, you often don't get the option of washing your hands before you eat. A simple pleasure is taking my Friday night splash bath. I use less than a pitcher of water to wash my whole body, while standing in a large tub to collect the dirty runoff water. People sell water when they have access to a vehicle and can go to the next town and get it.
The only plants that can grow here are the heartiest trees and bushes. Acacia Euphorbia and others have sharp needles or poisons that act as defense mechanisms against camels and goats. The animals too are very tough, and somehow survive on very little nourishment.
by Barbara Hinsman, Vigeze Village, Vihiga, Kenya
The rising sun wakes me at 6:30 a.m., and I walk drowsy-eyed into the kitchen. I find a large pot on top of the gas stove and congratulate myself for remembering to boil water last night for drinking today. I toss this water into the filter and put about two liters more on the stove to heat for bathing. I also put a small kettle on to boil water for my morning cup of coffee.
Noticing that both of my 50-liter water-storage containers are quite low, I check the backyard tap to see if by chance any water is trickling into the 20-liter plastic "jerry can" I can usually leave underneath the spigot. No luck. Today is Friday; tap water has not come in a week. Even worse, rains have been scarce. I guess my mountain of dirty clothes will just have to remain one more day, since it will take at least 20 liters to wash them by hand. What little water I have must be saved for drinking and bathing. But the distant clouds in the east give me hope that the rains might come this afternoon. If not, I'll have to pay a mama to go to the river for me tomorrow.
I remember the day I tried to fetch water for myself from the river and I laugh. That is exactly what the mamas did, too, when they saw me struggling miserably to carry a full jerry can of water home. One mama offered to carry it for me, and I couldn't refuse. She lifted it up to her head as if the thing were empty and balanced it so effortlessly! Since that day I have preferred to ask these mamas for help, having realized that it's probably not best to spend all day killing myself trying to accomplish what they can do in 10 minutes.
After bathing and eating breakfast, I head off to work. My only scheduled appointment today is an hour's walk away with a farmer named Joseph. Joseph started a small tree nursery recently so that he could plant some trees on his hillside farm to prevent soil erosion during the heavy rainy season. Already erosion has swept away most of his nutrient-rich topsoil, resulting in a harvest insufficient for Joseph to feed his own family. I had instructed him earlier on how to construct the seedbed, and I had even given him some seeds of indigenous trees. Unfortunately, I arrive today to find that all the seedlings are dried up and dead. Joseph has made the single most common mistake among the farmers I work with —he has failed to water the seedlings every morning and evening. "The river is so far," he complains to me, sounding very discouraged. I suggest that he move the nursery closer to a reliable water source, or share the nursery with another interested farmer who lives near the river. Delighted by my idea, he decides to try again. We agree to meet again in a few weeks' time.
On my way home I meet Brenda, the seven-year-old daughter of my friend Zibborah. Brenda is carrying a bucket of water from a local spring, and she looks very tired. No wonder! The very steep path between the spring and her house is severely eroded and difficult to navigate—especially while balancing a bucket of water on her head, I imagine. Brenda explains that this is her sixth trip to the spring today, because Fridays are clothes-washing days.
I follow Brenda home to greet Zibborah, who seems very happy to see me. She claims she is fine but then complains about the lack of rain and how it is ruining her maize crop. Instinctively we both look to the eastern skies and agree the rains will come today.
Zibborah graciously invites me in for lunch. Before eating she brings a pitcher of warm water, a basin, and some soap, and she pours the water over my hands as I wash them—a Kenyan ritual before and after every meal. After lunch she offers me some drinking water. Refusing politely, I explain that I have carried my own boiled water so that I do not get sick. Zibborah is not offended, and we discuss at length the importance of clean drinking water. After hearing my opinions, she decides that from now on she will be boiling her water to protect her family from waterborne diseases.
The darkening sky and cool winds cue me that it is time to make my departure. If the rain comes while I am here, I'll be stuck until nighttime! I continue my trek home with a bounce in my step, silently thanking the forces that are responsible for bringing us the coming storm. Finally my clothes will be clean! I assumed the farmers are just as grateful as I, for the thirst of their crops, their only sustenance, will be quenched today. I ponder the necessity of rain for survival here in Kenya. Never before has rain played such a direct role in my own survival. This realization hits me just as the first large, cool drops begin pelting my arms and face.
I reach my front door just as the downpour begins. Once inside, I grab all my basins, pots, jerry cans, and other containers. I take them outside and place them in strategic spots under the roof where rainwater falls plentifully—I need to collect as much water as possible. Finally, I sit by the window to rest and watch the storm cool off the scorching land. I make a quick mental note: remember to boil water again tonight for drinking tomorrow.
by Patrick Campbell, Mombasa, Kenya
The first thing I do when I wake up is to check whether or not I have running water. If I do, I fill my three-liter kettle and put it on my kerosene stove to boil drinking water for the day. And, if I have water I can shower. Otherwise I use water from my 100-liter barrel, taking three liters to boil and about five liters to "splash bathe." I pour the five liters into a basin, wet myself down, soap myself up, and rinse myself off. The key is to avoid getting soap in the water, otherwise you're stuck with soap in your eyes, trying to get water out of the barrel without getting soap into it and polluting your only source of water (until the water comes back on). A very delicate operation, especially if you can't open your eyes.
I use water for many of the same things I did in the United States (drinking, bathing, washing clothes and dishes, and cleaning my house). The difference is that I use about one-fifth of the water for each of these tasks as I did in the States. For example, I can hand-wash a load of clothes with about 10 liters of water, quite a bit less than my washing machine at home would use. There are days though, when I have sores on my knuckles from hand-scrubbing clothes, that I still miss the washing machine.
by David Frommell, Bagoo, Rift Valley Province, Kenya
6:30 a.m.: The alarm clock screams above my head in harmony with the rooster outside my window. I groan and hit the snooze button.
6:38 a.m.: This time the alarm clock convinces me that I must get out of bed. I shiver in the chill morning air as I make my way to the bathroom. I use the toilet, but I won't flush until this evening, to conserve water. I turn the handle on the faucet until the water begins to flow, just as it does every day. A splash on my face to open my eyes, and a splash on my toothbrush. Not yet feeling awake, or alive for that matter, I stumble into the kitchen in my boxer shorts and slippers. I pour some boiled water into the coffee maker and fill the teakettle from the faucet. I place both of these on the stove to heat.
7 a.m.: After taking my coffee, I pour the hot water from the kettle into a basin for bathing. I add cold water until the temperature is right, and I step into the bathing room for my splash bath. Five to six liters (1.5 gallons) is enough to make me feel and smell clean. After dressing, I fill a one-liter Nalgene bottle with boiled water to carry with me for the day. Most of my community members don't boil drinking water, as they can't afford the fuel (charcoal, wood, or gas) to do so. I pack my day bag, most likely forgetting several important items, and mount my bike to ride the three kilometers (1.8 miles) to town and my office.
10 a.m.: I attend several meetings with my coworkers to make plans for seminars and field trips. Afterward, I sit at a crowded table in the Sunshine Hotel, a local restaurant. The waiter mixes hot water and milk in my cup and drops a teabag into the cup to steep. I walk to the basin and wash my hands before eating my midmorning snack. A pitcher of water rests on the table for drinking. I prefer the boiled contents of my Nalgene bottle.
10:30 a.m.: I board a local bush bus, which is really a pickup truck with seats in the bed, and pay 20 Kenya shillings (25 cents U.S.) for the 15-minute ride to Chebowu, a small market center southwest of town. The bus enters the last gas station before leaving town. An attendant opens the hood of the old, rusted vehicle and pours cold water down the gullet of the thirsty radiator. We are on our way.
10:45 a.m.: I join my coworker Rose Ngina, on the three-kilometer hike from the asphalt road to Kaptongeno, where a group of farmers awaits our arrival. Along the way we pass a mama carrying a 20-liter jug of water on her head. She has come from the nearby stream. Another kilometer later we overtake a donkey pulling a cart loaded with water jugs. The remainder of the morning will pass before the water reaches its destination.
11:30 a.m.: We begin a meeting with the group of farmers, who plan to build a water storage tank. The group already manufactured and installed two hydraulic ram pumps in the local river, along with several kilometers of piping and three distribution points (taps). We plan and assign tasks for the proposal-writing phase of the project. The main pump is clogged with debris carried by the river, so today the mamas fetch water from the river manually.
1:30 p.m.: Hoping to avoid the afternoon rains, I leave the group to return to Kericho for lunch. A passing bush bus stops and carries me back to town. I pay a visit to a friend who owns an auto spares business. He offers me lunch. Stepping to the back of his shop, I wash my hands at the spigot. A slug of boiled water after eating helps to wash down the midday meal.
3:30 p.m.: After several more meetings, the time has come to bike home. With a pack full of fresh fruits and vegetables for dinner, I climb the hill toward home. I smell rain on the wind, and the large, black clouds ahead to the right close fast upon me. I pedal furiously; at 7,200 feet above sea level, the rain in Kericho falls cold. Moments before I arrive at my gate, the first drops strike my arms and face. The security guard lets me in, and the dogs sniff at my bag. Speeding down the hill to my house, I arrive just in time. As I step into the sitting room, the sky opens up, releasing a torrential downpour. The electric company cuts the electric service to avoid damages due to lightning and high winds. After lighting the lantern and a candle or two, I prepare another cup of coffee and sit down to record the day's events. Glancing at the calendar, I check the plan for tomorrow: laundry day. All to be done by hand, of course, in the same basin I bathe in.
10 p.m.: After a dinner of falafel and hummus, I wash up and brush my teeth again. I fill one last glass full of boiled water in case I wake up thirsty during the night. The rain has stopped, and the only sound tearing the utter silence of the night is the occasional barking of a dog. I fall asleep reluctantly, knowing that there will be plenty of water for tomorrow's laundry.
by Glenna Snider, Osorongai, Kenya
I live and work in the same location. I live in the interior. There is no electricity, no piped water, and very few latrines. Most of my time is spent visiting homes and schools in my area. I talk with people about the importance of clean water. The best way to teach is by example. Many of my neighbors are curious about me and my habits, so they closely observe everything I do and ask a lot of questions.
I am careful with how I use water. When the dry season is approaching, and my tank is no longer filled by rainwater on a daily basis, I start using the rainwater for cooking and drinking only (after I filter and boil it). I use the water from the dam for washing and bathing.