"No water, no life. No blue, no green."
- Sylvia Earle
Bo-'m'e pumping water and giving the baby a drink
I have a riddle for you...
What do all forms of life need, and if they don't get enough of it they die?
Political disputes have centered around it...
In some places, it's treasured and incredibly difficult to get.
In others, it's incredibly easy to get and then squandered.
What substance is more necessary to our existence than any other?
Prior to coming to Lesotho I had heard that Lesotho's main export and source of income is water. I, therefore, assumed that I wouldn't have to worry about dry taps while living here. Which makes sense on paper... going to a country in Africa that has such a plethora of water that they export it to other countries?! I'll never have to worry about water shortages!
Now I realize how incredibly wrong I was.
The taps in my village were installed only a few years ago and it seems that everyone is still confused on how they work. When I first arrived in my village, in July, I struggled to understand why my tap seemed to be dry throughout the week and only worked on weekends. I asked my friend, Rethabile, about it one day on a walk with her young nephews. She explained to me that a few weeks before I arrived the taps were dry for a two week period. Community leaders were concerned that someone had been misusing the water so they decided to turn off the taps during the week to combat the problem.
"How are families to live when they can only fetch water on the weekends?"
Before I go into the current water situation in my village I have a few fun facts about typical water usage in the United States.
Generally speaking, the average U.S. household uses an average of 260 gallons of water EVERYDAY. The three largest water usage devices in typical homes in the United States, in order, are:
1. Toilets use 9.1 gallons per person a day (34 liters)
2. Clothes washers (high efficiency) use 20 gallons per load (76 liters)
3. Showering for 8 minutes uses 16 gallons (62 liters)
Therefore, if I were living alone in the United States I would personally use 195 gallons (748 liters) of water a week on using the toilet, showering daily, and doing one load of laundry a week. Of course, we also drink water, wash dishes, cook, and water our lawns and gardens on a weekly basis.
Ready for how much water I use a week in Lesotho; for cooking, bathing, drinking, washing dishes, laundry, and my garden?
60 liters a week
Yes. The equivalent of one 8 minute shower (about 16 gallons)
I'm starting to feel better about those long showers I would take in the States...
Even though I'm currently feeling pretty proud about my limited water usage I also don't want to portray this as though it is easy or romantic. . .
I am currently limited to only 60 liters a week because we are all anxiously awaiting rain and the taps in my village are often dry. For the past month or so when the taps are turned on the water takes a day before it starts running out of the taps, and often it goes so slowly that it can take upwards of 10 minutes to fill a 20L bucket. To give you an idea it would take your shower just over 2.5 minutes to fill that same bucket.
I recently asked my supervisor why the taps are running so slowly and why some taps aren't running at all. She told me it's because, "the sun has not been heavy enough". The taps are run by solar power so when they aren't working properly people believe the sun is to blame, even though most days there hasn't been a cloud in the sky. Another sign that people in the village still don't understand how the taps work...
I find that a significant amount of my time is spent thinking about water. I am often wondering what I need to prioritize. Do I need to wash my hair or is it more important for me to do a load of laundry? Is it more important to wash my dishes or do I need to use that water for cooking?
One thing that is always a priority for me is having drinking water. I aim to drink an average of 3 liters of water a day so about 20L of my 60L a week goes to fresh drinking water. .
Lining up for water in the morning
Even though the water struggle is no joke and I dream of days when the taps will be running daily... I've found that Basotho's caring/sharing nature shines in these situations! Any morning when the taps are running I wake up to the sound of bo-'m'e (married women in the village) yelling to tell me what water has arrived!
"Nthabi! Metsi e fihlile!"
Regardless of how many buckets are lined up behind the tap (see the above picture) bo-'m'e make sure that my buckets jump into the line. The sound of water hitting the bottom of a bucket is my favorite alarm clock, nothing gets me out of bed faster.
If the taps dry up too quickly to fill everyone's buckets the villagers begin dumping water from their buckets to make sure that everyone is getting water. It's a beautiful system and I often think about how many Americans could benefit from seeing how well everyone works together...
As I said Lesotho's main source of income comes from the Highlands Water Project which raises millions of dollars each year through the sale of water to neighboring countries like South Africa. Unfortunately, many of Lesotho's own citizens don't have access to clean safe water and may have to walk miles to reach local springs which may or may not have water.
Luckily, The Water Project website explains that there is a project in the works that is looking to combat this issue. The Metolong Dam Project, completed in 2015 estimates that the water supply will reach 90 percent of the urban district of Maseru and sanitation coverage is expected to increase from 15 percent to 20 percent. Of course, there is a long way to go and this currently doesn't help the villagers who are currently struggling to run their households and keep their families healthy with the heavy periodic droughts while the majority of their water supply is being sold to South Africa.
"Thousands have lived without love, not one without water."
- W. H. Auden
Some pictures of what I've been up to in the last month or so:
Me and one of the bo-'m'e that I work with 'M'e Malesia
Possibly my favorite 'M'e that I work with.
We are great friends even though she doesn't speak any English.
An extra mosquito net put to good use as a screen door
Cinnamon raisin bread
As I said in a previous blog post I have adopted a kitten! Her name is Mokopu, which means pumpkin in Sesotho. She was a feral kitten prior to living with me and tested my patience from the start! She spent about 2 weeks living under my desk and only coming out at night to eat and use the litter box. Luckily, she's been worth the effort!
After living with me for almost 2 months she's finally comfortable with me! Now I'm just trying to get her to come out from under the desk while I have visitors...
Adventures of Mokopu!
Melting my heart on a daily basis
Thank you, everyone, for all your love and support! Living and learning on a daily basis in Lesotho isn't easy but it's been worth it!