The Source of Our Water
by Kerry Zahn, Paris, Mauritania
Garalla Paris, my village, is lucky enough to be blessed with a well. There are many neighboring villages that do not have access to clean drinking water and who must drink out of seasonal waterways or out of hassis, or holes, that the villagers have dug in the ground and that eventually fill with water. The color of hassi water is chocolate brown. Although my water is usually clear, that is no indication that it is safe from microbes that could make me sick, so I filter all my drinking water and treat it with bleach. At first I could not stand the taste of treated water, but since I have been drinking it now for a year and a half, I have gotten used to it. Our well is not covered, so many things can fly into it and contaminate that water source. Some of the main ailments in Garalla are stomach and diarrhea problems, due in part to drinking unclean water.
Luckily our well is usually pretty full. During the rainy season, water is not a problem because the water table is high. Sometimes during the dry season, the well runs dry because the water table has fallen and so many people in the village use the water during the hot summer days.
When I need water, I go to the well with my bucket, my delou (a bucket-type water holder made from an old inner tube) and a cloth to put on my head on which I set my bucket when I carry water back to my house. The first time I attempted to carry water in this manner, I failed miserably, ending up with more water on me than in my bucket. Halfway back to the house, a 10-year-old girl offered to take my bucket. With amazing grace, and with one hand steadying her load (where it had take me two hands), she continued to the house without spilling a drop. Since that time, I have improved my technique and can now fill up my bucket, put the cloth rolled up on my head, put the bucket on my head by myself, bend down to get my delou, and make it to my house without spilling a drop … on a good day! Even now, I have to use one hand to steady my load and cannot carry too large a bucket. I will forever be in awe of the women who are able to carry huge buckets of water without using their hands, while leading donkeys and carrying children on their backs. It has been my goal to learn how to carry water on my head without my hands, but I have not succeeded. Still, I admire others, and each time I carry a bucket on my head, I try to go a few steps without using my hands.
by Heather Cameron, Rosso, Mauritania
Rosso lies at the southern border of Mauritania, along the Senegal River. It is this river that serves as the water source for Rosso's 50,000 people. A government utility company pipes water from the Senegal River into an underground system through the town. Each neighborhood has several corner faucets where young women and children can fill up their buckets for a few pennies. More fortunate families have a faucet in their homes. Some even have showers.
Because the water comes from the river, it contains a lot of sediment. People are accustomed to letting the water sit overnight so that the sediment sinks to the bottom. It is also important to filter and treat the water (which the utility company says it does) to guard against illnesses like giarda and to kill amoebas. You never know what's floating in the water upstream.
The availability of water has never been a problem in the year that I've lived in Rosso. It is the flooding of the river that now causes transportation problems during the rainy season.