Fountain of Life
I have failed at this blog. It’s sad but true. After I got back vacation in the US over Christmas I shifted my attention from keeping people back home to date of my whereabouts to living and working entirely in Niger. I meant to go back and write blog posts retroactively to give the illusion that I was indeed staying on top of communication. That never happened and at this point it’s hard to remember what I did on a day to day basis.
Still here is a first recap February; the month that flew by!
Work wise I was busy teaching high jump at the school, I began English classes once a week in my concession that focused on speaking rather than writing English. I wrote my first extensive project proposal to obtain uniforms for the scouts, and copied, by hand, many, many birth certificates for the mairiee. Still the highlight of the month was not what something directly work related. It was so satisfying in fact that it deserves special attention.
Way back in October, SG took me to Daraïna, a neighboring fulan village o meet his girlfriend. (FYI, he used to have three wives of which he split with two so now he’s looking to marry again). In Daraïna I noticed a water pump in the middle of the village that was locked up and not used at all. I asked the village chief if was broken, hoping to maybe help fix it. I was informed that no, it was not broken. So if the pump worked, why were people content drinking river water directly. Did they not know that river water could cause many horrid diseases including cholera? When I asked, they said that they’d been drinking all their lives and they had never gotten sick from it. Hmpf. I’m pretty sure that they do get sick but attribute it to god’s displeasure rather than the water that they drink.
Anyways, I did eventually learn that the real reason the pump was closed was twofold. First, there was no drain for excess water so that it simply ran off on the road , slowly but surely ruining it. Second, people were afraid to sit by the pump and collect money from those that came to carry water since they believed that the person doing so would 1) be the victim of terrible insults from the children and 2) They would die. Well I wasn’t going to sit back and watch a perfectly good pump stand unused while the villagers feed their newborns brown river water, no matter the reason. I asked who was responsible for building the drain well and was given the name of the President of the Water commission; Seybou Harouna. Well knowing that nothing ever gets done unless confronted with directly, I quickly learned where Seboy lived and thinking that it wouldn’t take long to go there, I started out in the direction I was pointed to. 2 kilometres later I arrive at a group of houses and am happy to learn that yes, this is where Seybou lives but alas, he has gone off to the mango groves. Well I’d already gone this far so I might as well go all the way. I do finally find Seybou and the conversation progresses something like:
Me: God’s peace to you
Seybou : and to you
- How is your body?
- In health thank you, how is your house?
- Nothing but health. My name is Faiza and I am an American volunteer. I live in Sagafondo but can work in the entire commune of Bitinkodji. Today I came to Daraïna and saw that the pump isn’t working. The village chief told me that I need to speak with you about so here I am!
- I see, well welcome!
- They said that the pump isn’t working because there is no well to drain the water, is this true?
- Yes, we don’t have a drain
- So why not?
- We don’t have cement to fortify the whole once we dig it
- Is there no money to buy cement?
- Well , we do have money in the water commission caisse (money box) but that’s only supposed to be used for repairs.
- And don’t you think this constitutes a repair. You know some organization paid millions to build a really great pump in your village and now it just stands unused. River water is really really dirty you know, with lots of germs that can kill people. My heart breaks every time I see the children drinking river water.
- I know, I know. Why don’t we go se the village chief now to talk about it?
- Really? Right now?
And so off we go to the village chiefs and I can’t say what transpired there since it was all done in Fulfulde of which I know a total of 10 words, water and drain not being two of them. At the end, however I am told that they will indeed dig a hole, use the money from the caisse to buy cement because they don’t want my heart to break. “Great”, I say. “When?” People will promise anything to please you in the moment and so I wanted to make sure this was not such a situation. They say by next week. And so I say I will come back the next week to check. They agree and we part with hearty handshakes.
It takes two weeks to get the drain done but the point is, it does get done! Still, the pump does not open and I begin tackling the second part of the problem. That of finding someone to sit by the pump. I tell the mayor about this issue and he calls a meeting between the village chief, Seybou Harouna and the two municipal council members from Daraïna. We agree to hold a village meeting and ask the locals input. A week later, SG and I go to Daraïna, purposefully planned so that the council members can be there. After much routy debate we agree, despite the village chiefs skepticism that rather than a system of pay-per-use, each house in the village will pay a flat fee of 100 CFA (20 cent) per month and for that will have unlimited access to the pump. Despite the chief’s belief that the villagers will not fess up and pay at the end of the month, his wife agrees to organize the village women to be responsible for collecting the money.
And so the story ends happily. The system did work in that even now, three months after opening, people are paying the monthly fee and, as you can see on the picture below, they are pumping water to their hearts delight!