Something I have always enjoyed. As a kid, on the outskirts of Houston, my sister and I did swim team every year. Our grandparents owned a pool and lived not that far away. We spent a week at the beach every summer. My first job was “deep water lifeguard” at Splash Town.
It was not until college that I thought about drinking water. Or how much water I drank. It was then that I was told we all needed to drink more water. People began carrying water with them and buying bottles of it.
Here in the Sahel, carrying water with you is important. On the edge of the Sahara, it can mean the difference between life and death. This is not just a phrase, but something felt by the people here especially now, in the hottest season. Temperatures, even after sunset, are well over one hundred degrees. Highs most days speed past 110. My cook reminded me on Friday that three days are all you get. If you don’t drink, you die.
When I was a teenager in Houston, I would sometimes wake up in the night with an unquenchable thirst. I would stumble into the bathroom, turn on the faucet, cup my hand, and thirstily slurp the cool, soothing water with satisfying gulps.
I’ve always taken running water for granted. I learned this on my first trip to Niger.
Now the concept of running water is something genuinely remarkable to me. Turn the nob, or lift the lever, and clean, pure, drinking water comes pouring out. Water so clean that no one ever questions whether or not it will make them sick… or whether or not it will turn their white shirts orange. In America we fill our swimming pools with water clean enough to drink. Wash your clothes, flush your toilet, never even think about it.
Here in Niamey, most Westerners I know filter the tap water. Just to be safe. It tastes better that way too. It’s less orange.
Lately, though, here at Chez Jo, we’ve been having major water problems. At first (mid March) the water was slow. It trickled. And during some parts of the day that trickle wasn’t enough pressure to make the filter work. So we pulled out our backup, countertop model.
While our normal, under the counter model relies on water pressure, this one works with gravity. Pour the tap water into the top and it filters down into the bottom- kind of like the Britta filter we used to keep in our fridge back home to take the chlorine taste out of the water. (No worries about other, scarier things).
This week the water problems got worse. So much worse that the water didn’t work at all. Three days in a row it was off all day only to come on around midnight. Dave stayed up those nights to refill every pitcher we could find. We filled all the ice trays, did a load of laundry, ran the dish washer and filled bidons. What’s a bidon?
This is what Nigeriens use to haul and store water. At one point they were used for cooking oil. But people here are EXTREMELY good at reusing. We have six of them. On the days when there is no water we use them for everything- washing dishes, washing boys, washing floors, washing clothes…. but only if there’s enough. My washing machine takes 4 of these to do one full load. I can wash all three of my boys and myself with about a third a bidon.
When they are full, they are very heavy, but I can lift one up the stairs to our back door and even pour it into the counter top filter.
When (and if) the water comes back on we all run around like chickens or mice or lizards or something. QUICK take a shower, do a load of laundry, fill a bidon. On Saturday we had 45 minutes after lunch before it went off for a few hours. Some sweet friends who knew of our woes stopped by with 80 liters for us. Then it came back on and stayed on for the entire evening. We were in shock.
Today there is even enough pressure to use the old, under the counter filter. It’s like heaven. On EASTER, none the less.
I’m telling you all of this for a few reasons
1. I think it’s interesting how different life is here in the simplest ways, and could you please pray that our water will stay on?? thanks.
2. I think it’s amazing that so many people in this HOT desolate place do not EVER have running water. They live their entire lives hauling bidons or calabashes or canaries on their heads back to their huts and pour it into basins to wash. Just the sheer ability to survive is so amazing. I think often how we never chose WHERE we were born. God did.
3. There’s a nice segway into the other amazing thing that happened in the water this Easter in our community.
So simple, so beautiful, and miraculous. Eight of my Sahel Academy students were baptized this afternoon. It brought me back to my own baptism. And forward thinking of my boys and the day (I hope) they will pronounce before the world that they choose to follow Christ. This is my thirty-third Easter here on Earth. Only our second here in Niger. It was such a special day for us. After the baptismal service, we took our tribe to the pool and spent a few blissful hours enjoying each other. All of the boys LOVE the water and the bonding time that comes with it. I was reminded that I don’t play with the boys at home when I have fifty one things on my to do list like I do at the pool. A good reason to put it high on the priority list. It’s good to take some time and forget everything else except each other. As we celebrated with a special meal at lunch, I thanked God for this Easter. With these sweet faces to share it. I know that I will never sit at an Easter table with these people all together again. I am so thankful for this journey, this adventure, this bend in the path. Some days, especially in this heat, it is easy to let the details stress me. And then I forget to look around at all that God is doing here. His faithfulness is so constant. Every Easter of my life I have celebrated with family that he died for me. He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores me soul. He is risen indeed.