Fetching Water

Obtaining water for all of life’s necessities – drinking, cooking, bathing, and cleaning – can be a time consuming and difficult chore in West Africa. Many are dependent on wells, while others rely on donkey cart delivery or head to the barrage (dam).

I’m pretty lucky with my l’eau du robinet (running water spigot) setup right in my courtyard and an indoor shower. But – and this is a big but – it only works for a few hours per day. Thankfully it is mostly on a predictable schedule (lately between the hours of midnight and five in the morning), but it varies. At the end of the hot season, however, it wasn’t on any kind of schedule and we often went days without any water at all. I’ve been lucky though, and have only had a few days where I rationed and/or wasn’t able to take a shower/bucket bath. Fortunately each time the water came back the next night and I managed to not smell terrible for too long.

And there’s nothing like having a water shortage to make you realize exactly how much water one uses on a day-to-day basis. I usually drink between 4-5 liters per day and use an additional 6-8 liters for bathing. Laundry runs around 20 liters on per load. I also use water for cooking (1-3 liters per day), and instant coffee and oatmeal (<1 liter). Cleaning the house and dishes also uses quite a bit of water as well, I’ll guess on this one and assume 3 liters per day. So in total, that’s about 20 liters per day by my count, which sounds about right, though maybe a little low as I am sometimes shower multiple times per day to deal with being hot and sweaty all of the time.

But even when the water works every night it’s still an annoyance to have to decide to either stay up late or get up early to make sure I’ve filled up my water storage. I keep water in what are called barriques, translating literally to barrels, but I would liken them to plastic garbage cans more than anything else. I started with a 100 liter barrique for my first few months at site without issue, but with the water cutting out at unpredictable times, I wanted to add to this. I then purchased a 50 liter barrique and then, just days later, stumbled upon an available 160 liter monster barrique. So now I have 310 liters, which should be enough to get through even the most serious drought. After filling up all 310 liters the other night I was quite proud of the joke I made to my neighbors: “Ne vous inquiétez pas, si le robinet cesse de fonctionner, chez-moi sera le robinet” (Don’t worry, if the water stops working my house will be the spigot).


2 Responses to “Fetching Water”

  1. 1 Kristin
    June 15, 2011 at 01:40

    Whoa! That is some serious water storage! Do you open them up when it rains? instant rain barrel! This is a great post, having to procure and haul your own water everyday definitely makes you realize just how much water you are using and just think if you were in the States- yikes! You really lucked out having a “pad” with its own water source though, so boug-y! :-) Ive often thought of how much time and energy women expend getting water everyday in Haiti, granted public water spigots are a site of social interaction for women but I truly appreciate organizations that see water access as a crucial piece to empowering women in so many places across the globe. Just out of curiosity, is water contamination as big of a problem there?? do you have to treat your water?? And what do women say about a guy getting his own water- socially taboo?? Ok, enough anthropologist. Miss you!

    • June 15, 2011 at 12:05

      Somehow I never thought of that! I’ll definitely have to move the 50L barrel out there when it rains (it’s the only one I can move by myself when full). And yes, for Peace Corps in West Africa, my life is pretty boug-y! Though still a lot tougher than most other places I think.

      Water contamination is definitely a problem here. We have a special double filter system (PentaPure) made out of two buckets and a tap. Some restaurants in town add bleach to their water, which is effective, though doesn’t taste great. And yes, it would be weird for men to get water here at a well/pump. Though men often are the drivers of the donkey cart water delivery system!

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