When Madalina was born, her family lived near isoko y’amazi atemba, a source of running water. She used to carry an old pot that her mother had exchanged with a potter for three baskets of taro. Her mother used to half- teasingly tell her that if she ever breaks the clay container, she would never find a husband, but that was before. Longtime before her marriage.
The sparkling water that she fetched was transparent with a pleasant taste and an odorless aroma of purity. Now when she goes to visit her mother, she stops by the source. A million tiny dirt particles cloud it.
Children used to believe that during the rainy seasons, the mountains generously provided a lot of pure water. Madalina could see new little sources from the hills. Children didn’t need to dream of going to Canada to admire Niagara’s Falls. That mountain where their scattered houses were built used to offer its own falls.
Madalina can’t remember exactly when the chemical fertilizers that they applied in their fields started to alter the quality of their water.
According to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the increase in population and advances made in farming technology has resulted in an increase of contaminants polluting soil and waterways.
The complaint about water quality is not an isolated case for Madalina and Rwanda, it is becoming a worldwide issue: the price for the technological advance. In the United States of America, the 2000 National Water Quality inventory reported that agricultural pollution caused by rainfall and snowmelt movements was impacting on the water quality of surveyed rivers, lakes, wetlands, estuaries and ground water.
Why did the mountains become stingy with the pure water in their bowels? Madalina always asks herself. The small Madalinas who fetch water these days are students in school uniforms and it takes them longer to fill a7-liter container. They are the new generation, the hope of tomorrow, they are her children’s age mates; those who dream of being secretaries, teachers or nurses. They have never carried akabindi, the clay pot on their heads. Madalina imagines that it would damage their precious brains.
Now civilization has brought new domestic items, only the extremely poor women carry the traditional akabindi as they can’t afford a yellow 20-liter jerrican. These jerricans are oil containers that women clean using ibivuzo, remains of fermented sorghum beer.
Currently, most water in Rwanda comes from its rains. The hydrology is characterized by a dense network of lakes, rivers and wetlands. Rwanda is nicknamed both the heart of Africa and the land of a thousand hills. However, the large number of hills and mountains don’t facilitate access to water especially for communities living in remote rural areas such as Madalina’s.
The current water company, Water and Sanitation Corporation (WASAC), has built a community tap that provides water to households from three hills in Madalina’s village. The water has a chlorine taste and it delays to come during the dry months of July and August. However, according to WASAC, 40% of the constructed water facilities are not functioning due to the lack of proper operation and maintenance.
The tap that the water company has built is downhill in the marshland. When Madalina wants to wash her family’s clothes, she brings them to the tap, cleans them from there and hangs them on the nearby napier grass till they dry. When her little children want to bath, they go downhill as do their livestock when they want to quench their thirst. The water that she fetches, is used for cooking, washing dishes, adults’ irregular baths and washing the faces of the children every morning before they go to school or church.
Madalina lives on a small farm in the rural district of Gastibo. She is not the only Rwandan who struggles with regular and reliable access to water because miles away in the capital of Kigali, during the dry season, long queues always form at pubic water tanks.
In August, it’s a common scene in Kigali to see many people, especially house maids and boys, carrying yellow jerry cans full of water.
While 75.2% of the Rwandan population accesses clean water, only 69% live in the countryside against 79% located in urban areas. THis is quite commendable because in 2004, the nationwide distribution of drinkable water was estimated at 54% with only 44% in the rural regions. This is the result of the Rwandan government’s effort to provide basic services to citizens.
This progress gives hope to Madalina that her grandchildren will have less trouble accessing clean water.
Today, Madalina waits for the sunset before taking her yellow jerrican and going to fetch water; she hears her soul quietly sigh:
With my Head which carried loads of baskets and heaps
With my Hair torn off from my head as an upshot of heavy loads
With my Eyes worn out by sandy winds that are blown away my forty seven years
With my Ears that heard everything and kept all
With my Mouth that ate the fruits of my labor and drunk the tears of heaviness
With my Jaws tightened to hold my tears from flowing on my wrinkled cheeks
With my Teeth that chew sorghum stalk instead of a sugar cane
With my Neck chronically cramped by the ache of the heaviness of a 20 liter jerrican
With my Shoulders arched by my age
With my Belly that carried seven pregnancies
With my Heart tired by insouciance of my husband and the insatiable desires of my progeny
With my Lungs which breathed in and breathed out often-times
With my Stomach that starved itself to feed my kids and ulcerated by a steady hunger
With my Arms that fed and fetched water for my children
With my Fingers that joined in a prayer to get a drop from the tab
With my Hips which endured the pregnancy and the weight of a water jerrican
With my Legs which trembled resisting to the heavy weight of jerrican under gust of rain
With my Feet that ascended and descended a hill searching for water
With my Toes that hooked in the rocky pathways avoiding to glide
With my Skin flayed by unpitying sun rays
With my Husband who has never borne a baby nor a jerrican
With my Children who so often forget to say “thank you mother!”
With my Mother who convinced me this is my destiny
With all of this, I have cried, cried, cried and …… I have smiled
Despite this, I have smiled as it is my role as a mother and I played it well
Despite all of this, I will wake up tomorrow at dawn, take my jerrican, go and fetch water
It’s a holy walk to take
It’s a walk for searching clean water.