When the Water Stops

Amanda Brinegar - Senegal


February 28, 2011

After about four days with no shower, I start to really smell. My skin becomes darker with caked dirt, and I am forced to re-wear filthy clothes and turn socks inside out.

The water has stopped running.

At least once a week, I go to turn the handle on the spigot in the yard and nothing will come. Not even a trickle. For unknown reasons, the water remains underground. When this happens, my family, without blinking an eye, become like camels, living off the little water they have stored for such circumstances. They drink little and use even less.

When the water magically re-appears, my family doesn’t hesitate to refill the big containers that sit in our yard. They must always keep a supply of water on hand. This practice of rationing, while unsafe, is necessary. Standing water is more likely to be dangerous to drink, but the villagers must be prepared for when the water stops. Reusing water and washing hands less often obviously can lead to sickness, but what other option is there when you have nothing to with which to wash your hands?

Without a doubt, my village is better off than they were five years ago, when they had no running water and had to pull it up in buckets from deep, dangerous wells, but there is still a level of constant uncertainty on when water will be available.

The majority of Americans take 10-20 minute showers, use washing machines, dishwashers and leave the sink running when brushing their teeth without a second thought. Rarely is the preciousness of water understood or considered; we take it for granted.

Frequently it is forgotten that water is a source of life. Because of the temperamental nature of the village water, my family faces this fact every day. In my village, everyone is a natural water conservationist. Water that is used for washing hands at mealtime is also used to wash the dishes. Laundry water is used to clean the latrine. Dishwater is given to the sheep to drink. Everyone uses less than five gallons for their bucket showers, while much of the rest of the world uses 30 gallons or more. When the water isn’t running, the sheets don’t get washed, fewer showers are taken and Attaaya, a favorite tea, isn’t served after lunch or dinner. Sacrifices are made for something that the rest of the world insatiably consumes without responsibility.

My family will probably never experience a hot shower, a washing machine or a dishwasher, not to mention a bubble bath or a dip in a swimming pool—commodities and luxuries I took for granted before. Now, when I travel to Dakar and get a hot shower, I can only think about my family.

When I must leave my village and travel back to America in May, I know that I will never forget the sound of my entire village screaming and cheering when the water comes back on after being off for days.

Amanda Brinegar