Someone once said that the cause of World War III will be … water! Shrinking freshwater resources, the expanding Sahara, and yearly droughts all seem to confirm this theory. Water in Africa is priceless … where it is, there is a life. Because of that, here in Africa, rain is considered as a BLESSING! The rain has particular importance for the Maasai. God here called enkAI Narok (The Black God) He/She is the gracious God who blesses the people with black clouds that herald rain, rain that provides plenty grass for herds, and plenty of milk at home.
But the rainy seasons are getting shorter and the dry seasons lengthening from year to year. Then the cow bells fall silent in the villages, the life dies, deserted villages reviving only in the evenings. The herds trek long distances to find water and families fallow the herds. A village seem to be abandoned, because of the daily task of searching for water, which makes women and often children “disappear” every day carrying their heavy water containers 10 and 20 km. in search of distant ponds and riverbeds that have not dried up .
In the dry season, people dig pits in the dry riverbeds, sometimes several meters deep, in search of the precious liquid. There is not the clear water, which we were taught about in school (colorless, odorless) … but still it’s water! Periodic rivers permanently etched into the African landscape. Strange as it seems, if at any time one sees bridges, but there is no river. Interestingly, when the river appears, sometimes capriciously choosing a new riverbed, and the bridge stands as a monument to a bygone age “next to” rivers … Emphasis should be placed on the word “the bridge stands” because there were times when I cross over a bridge in the morning and in the evening, when I returned to mission, this bridge was gone, carried away during the day by a flash flood.
A major challenge is drilling wells, boreholes or building water reservoirs … We drilled such a well on an earlier mission … it cost us 10 thousand dollars. Now we have the 180-meter hole, which to this day remains … just a hole! There was no water… Cleverly enough often a company investigates for presence of water, but they will not give you a guarantee that water is there.
A different set of challenges are the water tanks fed by rain water. Sometimes the water is pilfered by humans or animals. As in the case of the Ngorongoro parish. One day the mission was visited by elephants that can smell water at distances of up to 20 km . Cleverly, the animals shifted the concrete lid of the tank to quench their thirst, in the front of the vigilant gaze of Fr. Joe Herzstein. His loud protests went unheaded by the elephants.
My new mission with Ned in Ngorongoro at a village called Olbalbal, has its undoubted advantages and disadvantages … Moving into my room there was a burning candle and a kerosene lamp. After a few days I enjoyed a small lamp powered be solar battery. In the corner is a bucket of water of 10 liters. On it stands a plastic basin for washing. I use the outside “shower” which consists of 4 walls, a tin roof, and a concrete floor. Our major convenience is “water pipe” with a tap next to the mission.
Olbalbal is a village with a local health clinic and a primary school for approx. 500 students! There is a pond, but the more correct term would be “swamp” used by the Maasai to water their herds. A few years ago, thanks to a project, a spring was improved in the mountains, from where the water is brought by pipes to the village. A pipe passes next to our mission. This pipe fills our plastic tank of 1 thousand liters capacity.
Most of time, the water appears at approximatly 10am for a short time and again later at 4pm. The water point here on the mission is used by the Maasai for their drinking water and to wash their clothing. Colorfully dressed Maasai women begin gathering at the tap at about 8am. They come equipped with colorful plastic buckets that are usually used for selling the cooking oil. They sit at “the tap”, talk, laugh and joke. After some time, there are more women driving donkeys that will transport the water to their homes. As the hours go by, it gets noisy, cheerfully. Someone is singing, someone is laughing … and then suddenly there is water! All conviviality is over and what seemed a family meeting turns into a struggle for water and survival. Issue now is getting water before the tap dries up. Shoving, quarrels break and voices are raised. Someone jumps in the colorful crowd with here bucket then, someone stronger pushes her aside. Everyone wants to be first to fill her container. Each woman has 1000 reasons why she should be first to get water. An attempt to “regulate” this is a classic Gordian knot, and the awareness that the water is not enough for all does not help … Any lucky one with full buckets go to one side, carefully guarding her treasure.
Women load bucket on her backs, fastening them with one of her many scarves, or look around for donkeys to load the containers into canvas pockets on their backs. Then the last drops of water fall from the tap with many buckets still empty. Their returns calm, laughter and chatter. Women exchange news from various places. Who was born, who is sick, who is getting married, how children are doing in school … The women slowly disperse to their homes to look for firewood or for other chores. The joyful buzz will return in the afternoon to once again turn into a fight at a time when the first drops of water appear at the tap. Sometimes it happens that voices wake me up as early as 2am in the morning … But the water will not appear until approx. 10am …
Silent witnesses of all this are plastic bottles that I put on our roof of corrugated metal. These small plastic bottles, which are filled with water are exposed to the sun for few hours. I have heard that the sun will purify the water. I’m waiting for the truth and explanations that maybe you have? Is it true that any water, placed in a plastic bottle and exposed to several hours of sunlight, it becomes “clean” and safe to drink? And so the Maasai seeing the bottles on the roof have verified one more time that these foreigners are nuts.