The Search

Lucy Blumberg - Senegal

January 30, 2012

We make our way through the village, buckets and scarves in hand. People are sitting out talking, laughing. Children are playing. Upon seeing our baggage one man wishes us luck.

“Search in peace,” he tells us.

Upon arrival at the water spigot, we find a small group of women, girls really, waiting. They sit on their buckets, laughing, talking, watching as the water level in the bucket under the spigot slowly rises. When full, a quick exchange is made, and the now full bucket is lifted onto a woman’s head, to be carried back to her home: to wash, cook, bathe, and drink.

After we’ve been waiting about twenty minutes, one girl anxiously calls our attention to the spigot.

“Look,” she says, “it’s slowing.”

We all take in a collective breath of anxiety. We watch as the stream of water slows to a trickle . . . and dies. A sigh is heard around the group.

“That’s bad luck,” my sister tells me. That’s an understatement, I sourly think to myself.

We pick up our buckets, empty as drums. We hang our head scarves over our shoulders, protecting us a little from the cold evening air. The other women talk of going to a farm down the road, where water might not have been turned off yet.

“It’s too far,” my sister says. The other women mutter in agreement. But for some of them, what choice do they have? If I don’t walk the extra kilometer, it means I don’t shower today. If some of the others choose not to, it means no food tomorrow.

We take leave of the group, still joking and laughing, and head back to our house. On our way we meet a woman walking towards the spigot.

“It’s been turned off,” we tell her. She lets out a sigh of exasperation. Then she asks my sister, “Can’t you wait until tomorrow? Don’t you have a reserve?”

My sister shakes her head. “I was working,” she explains. “I couldn’t call to tell them to start filling buckets.”

We arrive home to find my younger brother, Mohammed, with a bucket of water, taken from a nearby well. Without a word, we walk out again, buckets in hand. Each step I take I know I’ll be making it again, this time with fifteen liters of water on my head.

We make it to the well, a deep one, and fill our buckets. My sister tells me to stand back from the edge while she hoists the water, and I willingly comply. This is something I don’t really want to chance.

I help my sister hoist her bucket onto her head, and we call a girl walking by to lift mine. Within the first two steps water sloshes around in the bucket and over the sides, drenching the back of my t-shirt. My sister laughs and tells me to take it slow.

My mom greets outside the house, chuckles and says, “We should take a photo.” More water falls, this time soaking my skirt.

“Now I don’t need to shower,” I joke. “I just did.”

In our house, the unpredictable water cuts are obnoxious. It takes time and energy to fetch good, clean water. It hurts the top of your head, even with a scarf to cushion it. For others in the village, it is an everyday, sometimes all day occurence. It takes away from school, at least for Oumi and Hadi, twin girls about thirteen that live down the street. And the search is always the women’s job, or perhaps the girl’s. I dread the sound of the empty gurgle of the pipe as I turn the spigot, expecting water and receiving none. I now try to be grateful every time I fill my bucket, knowing that for an unbelievable number of people the search is constant and sometimes frightening. For me, the worst that could happen is I stay a little dirty.

Lucy Blumberg