Village Life: Water

Toilets are not the only thing missing. Like most villages, there is no running water in Kamega either.

A week before I travelled to Kamega, I visited women farmers in villages outside of Chereponi, a small town in the Northern Region right next to the Togolese border. This area suffers from water scarcity. Some villagers have to walk several kilometers to the nearest creek to wash clothing and to fetch drinking and cooking water. This tiny glimpse of rural life frightened me. Was I strong enough to carry water over this distance? How would I avoid dehydration?

Fortunately, water scarcity is not as severe in the Upper East Region. Kamega is endowed with several boreholes and wells, and the Apiim family fetches water from a borehole that lies two minutes from the compound house. The borehole is a water pump that draws water from far below the surface.

Women and young children (mostly female) are responsible for pumping and carrying all of the water needed for cooking, drinking, washing and bathing. They carry water on top of their heads in metal headpans, plastic or metal buckets or plastic jugs. They do not directly place the containers on their head. Instead, they create a cushion by wrapping a small cloth into a circle that they place between their heads and the containers. Surprisingly, there is a specific way to wrap these cushions; women always laughed and re-wound my cushions. When filled with water, the containers are incredibly heavy. Women often go in pairs or groups so that others can help lift the container onto the individual’s head. Once the women and children reach their yards, the water is deposited in large clay pots or tall plastic containers that look like trash cans.

The borehole and well have a reputation for being a place where women socialize. This is true. Women would greet each other and talk while they fetched water in the morning or late afternoon. However, this was more true for the hoards of children that fetched water in the late afternoon. The borehole was a popular hang out for these children, and they  would spend all afternoon playing by the borehole while they waited their turn. Mary would scold her children for playing by the borehole well past sunset.

I would go with Mary to fetch water for the yard. Pumping the water was no problem, but carrying the water on top of my head was challenging. The first time I fetched water my muscles burned from pumping the water, my head hurt from the pressure of the bucket full of water, and my arms went numb from nervously clutching the bucket on top of my head. As I grew stronger, I transitioned from a light plastic bucket to the 30cm metal bucket to the 34cm metal bucket. Unfortunately, I never managed the weight of the large headpans. Many women balance the containers on their heads without using their hands for support. I never got the hang of balancing the buckets on my head. I supported the bucket with both of my hands, and even then, I still sloshed water all over my clothes and the ground.

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