Well, Water

Emily Hess - Senegal


April 5, 2011

Water and power outages are a really big problem in Senegal. I’d go so far to say that it could very well be the biggest problem in Senegal, but I never put anything number one on any list because I’m usually proven wrong. So let’s just say that as far as I can tell right now, water and power outages could potentially be the biggest problem in Senegal. That being said, it’s easy and sometimes astonishing how people adapt to those problems. Before I left for our January monthly meeting, the water had been out for about two days. Two days. If something like this were to happen in the US, people would riot. However, here it is almost a weekly occurrence, and, well, much like all things that happen often, people find ways to live with them.

When I turn the faucet on and nothing comes out but the sound of gurgled emptiness in the pipes, I’m still not entirely sure what to do. Sometimes I stand awkwardly in the middle of my courtyard in the house and wait for the water to maybe come back on so I can take a shower. Sometimes I just don’t wash my clothes when I really need to, and I brush my teeth with the drinking water in my bottle that I should be using for, well, drinking. I’m still learning that not all things, especially here, are used for the things they’re intended to be used for.

So it was one of those dirty, grungy, I-didn’t-take-a-shower-last-night-and-now-I-don’t-even-feel-like-wearing-clean-clothes type of mornings that I felt truly proud of myself for my adjustment. I woke up and stayed in my pajamas all morning and helped with housework. When the maid walked in with a basin full of well-water on her head, my first thoughts were something along the lines of, “wow, I really want to do that someday”. So after doing the dishes and cleaning up under the staircase, low and behold we’re out of water again and the maid is nowhere to be seen. “This is my chance!” I’m thinking. And when I see the look on my mother’s face that there is no water and there very well should be, I’m practically jumping with excitement. Please ask me, please ask me, I can do it, I’m right here. Just say the word! I’ll go!

“Emily, would you go get some water from the well Marcel works at? You know the farm across the street. You know Marcel? There. Yes. Do you understand? Water,” she says cautiously.

I am beaming and quickly tell her yes in all three languages I know how to say yes in, and hurry across the street and into town with my big blue basin and a big hearty grin. I suppose I’ll admit that it took a minute to find exactly the door that led into the farm, but when I did, I cheerfully set my basin down to have it filled, with Marcel giggling at me for being slightly more bouncy than all the other women lined up who do this almost weekly. And then the moment came where I lifted the basin of water onto my head, and very very carefully walked out of the farm, across the street, down the street, and into my house. There was a little spilling and a lot of giggling and pointing from kids playing by the road, but it was beyond worth it. I’d have given so much money for a picture of me carrying a big water bin on my head in my pajamas. No more standing awkwardly waiting for life, or in this case, water, to happen. I’m carrying it on my head from here on out, even if it smells slightly like chicken farm.

Emily Hess