Precious Rain

When I served in the Peace Corps in Brazil, I had no running water. The other PCV and I had to pay a neighbor to fetch water from a dam outside of town. Once a week, he strapped four large cans (each held about five gallons) to the sides of his donkey to carry water to us.

There were water sources closer to town, but since those small ponds were used by many for washing clothes and watering animals, and we suspected the waste from the back yards of homes without outhouses ended up there, too, we paid him extra to bring us the cleaner water from the dam. 

We also paid a woman to hand wash our clothes. We insisted she launder them in the dam, too. And we requested that EVERYTHING, including underwear, be ironed, mostly to kill germs. Irons for pressing clothes were made from iron. They were very heavy and held hot coals.         

In our kitchen, we had a large, four-foot high crock to store our water. First we put a clean dish towel over the hole at the top while our water boy poured the water through it to filter out insects, stones, weeds, frogs, tadpoles or debris.       

Water used for cooking or drinking had to be boiled for at least twenty minutes, then we put it into the top portion of a terra cotta water filter to drip slowly into the bottom section. A spout allowed us to draw water when we needed it. The terra cotta kept it cool. 

After the other PCV left at the end of her service, I rented a different house which had a system to collect rain water and a cisterna to store it. I'm not sure how much water it could hold, but I would guess about 1000 gallons. Even in good years, ten degrees south of the Equator, anyone with a large family was unlikely to collect enough water during four to six rainy months to last through the long dry season. The region was notorious for droughts which often meant there was no rain for a year or more at a time. Luckily, the two years I spent there, we had plenty of rain during the winter months, but, as was typical, almost none during the dry summers.

My new house had a fairly sophisticated shower room. During the dry months, I had to carry water from my cisterna, but during the rainy season I could move one of the ceramic tiles on the roof so that rain water would drop into a metal container under the ceiling of the shower room.  I heated a pot of water on my stove (fueled by a propane gas tank) stood on a chair and poured the hot water into the tank to heat up the cool water already gathered there. I turned a small knob on the bottom of the water tank so water would fall from a spout onto my head. A drain in the floor took the waste water outside to a gutter cut into the concrete, which directed it to the end of the back yard. 

I asked my laundress to come to my yard to use the rain water from my cisterna. It meant she didn't have to carry a large bag of clothing a mile or so to the dam ---clothes that would be wet and heavy on her return trip.  And the rain water from my cisterna was even cleaner than that in the dam. 

After living for two years where it took a lot of work to obtain a little water, and even more work to make it drinkable, I appreciate every drop of clean running water in my current home. Water is probably our most valuable resource and should not be wasted.

(See also my photos: "Saving Water" and "Hand Washing")

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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.