by Clare Sandy, Andranomena, Madagascar
What I use water for in Madagascar is similar to what I use it for in the United States, but how I get it is very different! First of all, I have no sink. Every morning I go to the pump and carry a big bucket of water back to my house (on my head). I use this water to make coffee, tea, rice, pasta, or any other food that needs water to cook. When Malagasy people cook rice, often they purposely burn it to the bottom of the pot, add water after the good rice has been served, and put it back on the fire. This gives the water an interesting taste, and since it boils, it is always safe to drink. It also makes the pots easier to clean!
I pour some of the water into a filter that has a faucet, so I always have it ready for drinking. It's so hot and dry here that I need to drink a lot more than usual; besides there's not much else to drink! I also use this water to wash my hands and rinse food, with a plastic tub under the faucet to catch the water. I then use the water in the tub to wash my dishes, and rinse them with the water from the bucket. I pour the dirty water on the plants in my backyard. Many villagers carry their dishes to the pump and wash them in the stream there. When we brush our teeth, we spit on the ground outside.
I also have no shower. In the late afternoon, I go get another bucket of water before it gets dark. I use about the whole bucket to take a "shower" every evening, which involves pouring the cool water over myself with a plastic scoop, in a little room next to my outhouse. I use a lot less water than a real shower, because it isn't running while I'm shampooing, soaping, or scrubbing. Of course, since I use a latrine, there's no need to flush!
Since there are no washing machines, and laundry needs a lot of rinse water, everyone washes it by the pump. Washing all your clothes, sheets, and towels in a tub, using a scrub brush, and rinsing and wringing them by hand takes a long time, so I often hire someone to help me. Since there are no hoses, gardening takes a lot of time and effort to keep plants watered. Many people don't grow anything at home, only in the fields, which are irrigated.
The park service agents who live here must carry water with them on a motorcycle whenever they go into the nearby nature reserve camp, because there is no source of water for drinking, eating, or washing in the forest during the dry season.
by Rob Roberts, St. Augustin, Madagascar
I always knew that we needed to conserve water at home, but I never really knew exactly why. I took short showers, didn't let the faucet run, and tried not to use the garden hose too often.
Then, I arrived in Madagascar and my outlook changed. The need for personal water conservation became quite apparent. I quickly learned that wasting water would only cause more work for myself.
I count buckets now and I fill each one, so I know exactly how much water I use in a day. Can you believe that I can go a whole day using only three buckets of water? And almost two full buckets are used for watering my garden in the morning. When there are no faucets and the well starts getting dry, conservation is more than an ideal, it is a reality. It comes naturally.
With that one remaining bucket, I have to cook my meals and wash the dishes, and the rest is used mostly for drinking water. I now take my showers in the river. I guess my garden gets more water than I do.
by George Ritchotte, Andranomala Nord, Madagascar
My water usage in the village is the same as in the States. I use water for drinking, cooking, washing dishes, washing laundry, and myself. But the similarities end there. I have three five-gallon buckets that I use for fetching and storing water from the nearby pump. Unless the pump is down and I have to fetch water from the rice paddies, I don't boil my water; I just filter it. I have two filters, only one of which actually filters water. The other is broken and I just use it as a tap for washing my hands and dishes. The filters sit on a shelf over my kitchen table. A plastic tub underneath collects wastewater, which I then use to water my garden. It's a pretty nice system, if I do say so myself.
For showering I used to stand on stones outside my kitchen window and pour water from a bucket over my head. Just recently, however, my shower was finally completed—a structure made of four reed walls that even has a door. I still take bucket baths, but the shower greatly cuts down on wind and prying eyes. In the winter months, I heat water since nighttime temperatures dip into the 40s.
I still wash my own clothes, much to the amusement of the people in my village. Whenever they see me doing laundry they ask where the woman is. I fetch water from the pump and fill a large plastic basin in which I wash the clothes. I rinse twice, wring them well, and hang them in the yard. It's not Maytag, but I'm good enough so that now I get my clothes pretty clean. I use the dirty water to water the garden in front of my house.
by Robin Larson Paulin, Andranofasika, Madagascar
—We drink lots of water to prevent dehydration because it is very hot.
—I give water to my dog, Botra.
—I wash my hands many times throughout the day.
—Each day I fill my drinking water filter.
—Each evening, I wash dishes in a bucket of water and bleach.
—We take bucket baths with a five-gallon bucket.
—We water our young baobab tree and our lemongrass plants (citronella).
—We cook pasta or rice.
—We brush our teeth and take malaria medicine.
In the Community:
—Ladies wash clothes in the stream.
—People cook rice all day long.
—People make ranopango (rice tea).
—Men take ombys (cows) to the stream to drink
—People plant rice in the paddies, ankle deep in the water.
In the Workplace:
—The chefs cook rice for employees of Conservation International.
—Lemur and bird researchers have running water for showers and toilets.
—Turtle researchers have tanks of water for turtles to live in.
—Forest guides carry drinking water for long hikes in the forest.
—Tourists go to the lake to see fish eagles and crocodiles.
How my use of water in the Peace Corps differs from my use in the United States:
—We always use much less water here because it needs to be fetched, which is very tiring in the heat of the day.
—We need to treat our water with bleach and to filter it because there is no water treatment plant as there is in the U.S.
—We need to take precautions for diseases such as cholera and other waterborne diseases.
—We take bucket baths (about five gallons) instead of showers.
—We wash all our clothes by hand, rather than using a machine. It's amazing how clean the Malagasy women can get our clothes by washing by hand in the stream.
—We drink much more water because we need to keep ourselves hydrated. Dehydration was never an issue in the U.S. because it's not this hot where I come from.
—Going without rain for nine months during the dry season makes you appreciate rain more than we do in the U.S., where rain is more common.
by Jina Sagar, Ambalahenko, Madagascar
In Ambalahenko there are as many ways of cooking fish as there are for catching them. The people fish and gather food for a living. Living is working and work is living. At night people go by canoe with torches to hunt for octopus, lobster, and fish. Methods of fishing are divided up among the genders and the female-specific method is called manitry. They must wait for the afternoon winds and low tide to push the schools of fish upon shore. We then walk the length of three sandy beaches to where the rocks begin. We wade through the blue, shallow water, thigh deep, forming a semi-circle in the water. When the lead woman spots sign of schooling fish (a slight disturbance on the surface of the water) we circle around and herd them into a cloth net. The event is a mix of shouting, splashing, and excitement as the circle tightens. It's a time when all the women of the village work together and share what is caught.
In the United States, I could turn on the tap anytime I needed water. Carrying buckets of water to my house has made me more conservative with the water I use. Dishes now require only a few cups of water. The ducks and chickens drink any puddles of water left over, so not a drop goes to waste.
by Mark Danenhauer, Namoly, Madagascar
I live next to a national park, so I spend a lot of time camping and working in the park. The camp usually consists of 30 villagers and me divided up into seven tents. Upon waking up in the morning people either go to the river to wash off or simply go to the irrigation canal that runs through our camp. Some people use the water from the canal to brush their teeth. I prefer the solitude of the river to wash off my face and watch the sun illuminate the landscape. Water is taken from the canal to prepare meals: first to get the rocks out of the rice, and then to cook it.
The Malagasy, who eat more rice per person than anyone in the world, eat rice every meal of the day. Water is taken from the canal to cook the laoka (sauce), as well. When the food is ready, 30 plates of rice and laoka are served. Water from the canal is then boiled in the pot the rice was cooked in, producing a rice-flavored tea. All 30 plates and spoons are washed off in the same canal water after the meal is over. Some workers also use the canal water to wash off their faces or clothes. The canal that this water comes from is eventually used to irrigate the rice fields. This is my example of the multiple uses of water at one location. This shows water's role as both a life giving, and a life-sustaining, element. Without water, where would we be?
My water use in Namoly is vastly different than in the United States. Since I fetch my water from the pump in buckets, I'm very aware of how much water I use. When washing dishes, I can't just turn the tap on and let it run. I use water in a basin to wash my dishes. For showers, I boil some water, then take a bucket bath. Although I have not been living here very long, I have definitely come to appreciate the value of water. The next time you take a bath, wash the dishes, or drink a glass of water, think about the importance of water in your life.