My family in Senegal supplies the surrounding community—the village of Leona, about 1,000 residents—with ice during the hot months from April to November. It’s not the family’s main source of income; we only make 100CFA ($0.20) per block of ice. In fact, we probably wouldn’t sell ice at all, but we’re the only family in town that owns a freezer.
After the first few weeks, it became normal to hack out a hunk of ice and hand it over to a two-foot high child in exchange for a few small coins. The foreignness of such a practice had melted away. When a visiting American pointed it out to me recently, I re-realized: this is just one of the differences I’ve grown accustomed to after living in a less-developed country for the last six months.
But what of those differences are just missed comforts, and what are seriously affecting livelihoods? Like so many of the “necessities” in America, I’ve managed just fine without ice. (Because of the water’s microbial makeup, I can’t safely drink it.) Similarly, Leona gets by just fine with only one freezer to keep things cool in the blistering heat. When you zoom out a bit, the village has only had access to running water for the last four years, and that’s where I draw the distinction between living and luxury. In thinking about “developing” a country like Senegal, ice may not be essential to survival, but water certainly is.