Saturday, June 20, 2009

Water in Goma

I seem to have caused a bit of a panic among some of my loyal readers, upon mentioning that water doesn't run in our apartment.

Thank you for asking. You are right to be concerned. Water is one of many things, that I often took for granted before moving to Africa. But for most of the world, water is a very real concern. But Goma has many things going for it in that regard. Goma is located at the edge of a beautiful, relatively clean lake. It rains regularly here. And more to the point, Goma is full of the trappings of the twenty-first century. I would guess that even on a quiet day, twenty or thirty planes fly into Goma. And there are cell phones, and I mean the latest, hottest brands, everywhere. And yet the vast majority of people have to carry water to their houses. The streets of Goma are full of women and children with water containers on their heads. What kind of world is this where the average person is more likely to own a cell phone, then to have running water in their home? It is a world where public services don't exist.

So what does this mean for us? We have all the plumbing, we have sinks and faucets and a bathtub and a shower. It is just that water does not often come out of them. We took the apartment with the understanding that water would in fact never come out of these faucets. It does arrive somewhat regularly (usually for a couple hour a day, most days) at an outside faucet in the yard outside our apartment. It just doesn't have the pressure to make it up to us. So we took the apartment, and did precisely what our neighbors did, which is buy a big water barrel, and pay someone to carry water up to us.

Miraculously, the water pressure has gotten better, and we now have water that actually does come out of our faucets on occasion, although NEVER when you want it, and we still have someone that carries water upstairs for us. When we first moved here, I imagined, in my "do it yourself" American way, that I was going to carry this water myself. I think I did. Once.

So yes, we have been taking bucket baths for the past two years. When I am motivated I heat the water on the stove first. But it is still a long cry from a hot shower. A hot shower is something I swear I will never take for granted again.

For those who have money, there is always a solution. Nice fancy houses usually have large water tanks outside that you truck water into, and and when the public water supply dries up in your faucets, you can just switch the source to the water tank. The first year that we lived here we lived in a house like this. It was very nice.

But most people just have to hope for the best. If they have the plumbing at all, water arrives only sporadically, usually at 2:00 in the morning. I have talked to many people who get up to fill their water buckets at some crazy hour of the night, which is the only time water ever runs in their house.

But even that is a luxury. The reality is that most people don't even have the plumbing. They either go down to the lake and get water from there, if they live close enough, or they go to the many water pumps (Well, really they are just outside water faucets) that exist in the city. These water pumps inevitably have long lines, are not free, and still have the same problem as we do. The water doesn't run all the time.

Electricity is much the same. We have it. It works sometimes. And yes, I have an internet connection. And that works sometimes too. And when I am really lucky the electricity and the internet work at the same time. Of course that is always exactly when the water starts flowing in our faucets and I have to go fill up our water barrel.


Julia said...

I lived on campus in faculty housing at Universite Gaston Berger in St. Louis, Senegal. Senegal is pretty developed in relation to many of its neighbors and UGB is the most prestigious university in the country. But we had no running water most of the time. As you said, at roughly 2 am a few times a week, I'd hear the toilet running (somehow this could wake me up from a deep sleep even though the toilet was on the other side of the apartment). I'd leap out of bed and start filling basins and buckets as using any faucet I could. 4 years later, here in New York, we're in the midst of a seemingly never-ending rain. It's been rain for over a month now. Yet I cannot leave water running as I do the dishes and I still appreciate the warm, heavenly shower. We are so lucky here.

kristine said...

Thanks for the response!