Tuesday, October 12, 2010

At the Watering Hole

“Vale a pena ter nada mas ter agua.” (“If you have nothing else you must at least have water.”) That is what Josefa said this morning as we helped her get water at the pump. The electric pump that services the school is broken so now we have to go to the manual pump behind the teacher’s neighborhood, fill our water jugs and carry them home. We didn’t exactly have running water before (it came on for about 10 minutes three times a day) but it was a whole lot easier than going to the pump.

The nice thing is that we get a taste of water pump culture. There are students, working members of professors’ households (i.e. relatives they’ve taken in) and people from the mud hut village behind the school compound. Changana is the predominant language and some people don’t speak any Portuguese, but there’s really not much to be said. One jug can be filled at a time so everyone sits around and waits their turn. People trade off working the pump (which is surprisingly tiring!) and help each other put water onto their heads or (should they be so fortunate) into a wheelbarrow. It’s a quiet atmosphere of waiting, mostly silent save the non-stop chugging of the pump.

It’s normal for young girls to be sent in pairs to get water. Some of them look younger than they are due to malnutrition but are surprisingly strong. Today there was a girl of only 6 or 7 sent all alone to fill two 25 L jugs of water and bring them home in a wheelbarrow. She waited a long time at the pump and eventually got frustrated, crying and trying to push her jug under the water to the annoyance of the others. When she did fill the jugs she made it no more than five yards from the pump before she could go no further. The other people started talking.
“How can they send that girl alone to get 50 L of water? She’s too young. What kind of mother does that?”
“She lives with her stepmother.”
“Oh, that’s it then. Her stepmother sent her. Stepmothers are no good.”
“I live with my stepmother and she’s good.”
“Ok, well some are good but most are bad. It’s better to have a mother.”
“And her father?”
“He lives with them but he has no voice for his children.”
“What a shame.”
“Does she go to school?”
“I think so, but they won’t let her go for long.”

I finally got tired of listening to their idle gossip and went to help the girl. I carried her wheelbarrow through the school compound, up the small hill behind and all the way to the beginning of her village. I knew that if her stepmother saw me helping the girl would be beaten, so I left her there and said to go home and ask for someone to take it the rest of the way. When I left my hands were bright red, my arms hurt and I had broken a sweat. It’s no easy task. I can’t imagine doing that at age 6.

When Valerie came to help at the pump the conversation became more lighthearted.
Joesefa said, “When you marry a Mozambican you will come to the pump and get water like this.”
“It’s a good work out.”
“You don’t have to go running, just come here and pump.”
“Valerie is a Mozambican woman now. Look at her pumping water with her hair in braids.”
“Yes, but a Mozambican woman pumps water with a baby on her back.”

In fact, there were people with babies on their backs, including a very young girl of maybe 14. I know it was her child because she was breastfeeding it. I was happy to see the baby fat and healthy, but sad to see a young girl’s life changed forever.

There is a lot to be learned at the water pump. You realize how precious water is, you begin to understand life in the villages and, most importantly, you gain an appreciation for the Mozambican woman. When life gets tough the man takes off. It’s the woman who stays. People celebrate male politicians and war heroes but it's the women who keep this country (and every other country for that matter) running smoothly.

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