WAITING FOR WATER
Water does not wait. It flows away, dries up, or soaks in, pausing for no one, waiting for nothing. Water sets the schedule of life. When it flows; we drink. When it does not flow; we wait.
The average American uses more than 500 liters of water everyday. The average African is likely to use only 20 liters per day. This disparity in water usage and particularly the lack of clean water available to Africans is a subject frequently discussed. Less often discussed is the waiting. Obviously when water is lacking everyone must wait for it to arrive but even when water is abundant its procurement is often a matter of waiting.
It takes time to walk to the watering hole. Then you must wait in line for your turn at the watering hole. It takes time to fill your water containers. Then, one jug at at time, you must walk the water home. The back and forth for water adds up to an average of four miles per day. In the end, Africans spend 40 billion hours waiting for water every year.
This short film is about that waiting.
AN EXTINCT VOLCANO NAMED ELGON STOPS EVERY STORM THAT FLOATS OVER THE SERENGETI.
PARTNERED WITH THE RED CROSS IN THE MAKING OF THIS FILM I FOUND MYSELF LIVING IN A MEDIUM SIZED TOWN CALLED BUNGOMA NEAR THE UGANDA BORDER. A REGION NOT KNOWN FOR ITS ARIDNESS. THERE IS WATER HERE. ARMED WITH A CAMERA AND MICROPHONE I SET OUT TO DOCUMENT WHY, IN SUCH A WET CLIMATE, WOMEN STILL WAIT FOR WATER.
The Red Cross Land Cruiser “picked me" at 7:30am with Daniel Wangila (guiding) and Hannington Mwangale or “Pilot” (driving) and the three of us headed off to an area called Sirisia. On the map Sirisia looks like a single-dot-town or village. Its shown to be roughly 30km north of Bungoma town sitting right at the base of Mount Elgon. However, centralized towns do not characterize this area, instead, there are endless rolling hills speckled with small farm houses all spread out from each other but never ending. There are few roads in this area and our LandRover followed footpaths often.
The population density of Bungoma county is 2207 per KM squared and has a total population of about 1.3 million people. These facts are surprising in a seemingly rural place like Sirisia where the houses are never too close together.
Sirisia is a sub-county located within Bungoma County which is the fourth most populated out of all forty-seven in Kenya. Within Sirisia there are further divisions known as wards. For this project, I visited about nine different wards. There is a governor at the head of each county. For representation there is one senator per county who reports to Nairobi in addition to one member of parliament for each sub-county. Within that, each ward has a county representative who reports to the county government.
We drove around for a while looking for the right place and when we finally stopped we weren’t really anywhere in particular - we just stopped in the middle of the road - the watering hole we were visiting was in the ditch next to it.
I hopped out and greeted everyone in Swahili, “Hamjambo?”, the small crowd of women just looked at me… Then Wangila greeted everyone for me, but in Bukusu (the local tribal language), and the dozen women smiled and welcomed us to their spring. Thus began the slow process of documenting the water gathering women of Sirisia, Kenya. Getting to know these women over the next two months was both infuriating and inspiring. It made me angry to see what they had to do to obtain water and it inspired me to see the strength with which they did it.
These people are waiting. Each waiting for water in their own way. Some for their children to return home with jugs of water so they can start the day. Some for their turn to fill at the waterspout. Some for the water to trickle into their bucket.
Every morning Margaret Mutenyo walks a little less than a mile with empty jerrycans in her arms to a waterspout where she waits until its her turn to fill. Then she places her yellow jugs under the pipe, one at a time, waiting as they fill. From there she briskly carries each jug home on her head. She's been doing this for her whole life. Water won't wait.
Neta Bwonya has spent her whole life doing the same. Half of most of her days are spent walking between her home and a small puddle on the side of the road where she fills jugs one cup at at time. The water here demands her patience. During the dry season one scoop from her cup takes most of the water from the puddle so she must wait for the puddle to slowly refill before scooping again. Water flows at its own pace. During the driest months of the year the puddle often dries completely.
Waiting for Water is similar to many of my other projects in that my goal was not to create a cool film that I could be proud of. My main objective was to use whatever skills I could muster to create a positive change in the world around me. In the end, I think the film will be my best so far, but I won't consider it a success unless I can go back and visit the women I met in Sirisia and find their situation to be improved.
Follow me on whatever social media the kids are using these days over the next two months to receive updates and bonus content related to Waiting for Water. I'm using #waiting4waterkenya on instagram to keep everything together so check that out. Send me your thoughts and feedback. I want to know what you think, what your reaction to this is. I know water security is a heavily played track in social development circles but that doesn't negate its importance so help me break through the clutter and be more than a single drop in the bucket.
How can we go from a film to a changed reality?
Ideas, inspiration, and criticism all welcome.
SO HOW CAN YOU GET INVOLVED? HOW CAN WE END THIS WAITING?
1. Spread the word about this issue and about this project. Sure its clicktivism or something like that, but we have to start somewhere! Share this project with everyone you know, write emails, use Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, or whatever other social media you tolerate, just spread the word.
Use your people skills to write to radio stations, newspapers, websites and magazines, tell them about this cause.
2. Donate cash for clean water infrastructure. Guess what, permanent, clean, reliable, water infrastructure is expensive to develop! The process of digging wells, installing pumps, providing filters or chlorine dispensers, or setting up storage tanks generally costs a lot of money.
We can sit around and argue about who’s responsibility it is to provide this kind of infrastructure and who should be paying for it but, honestly, none of that matters to the people who spend half their day sitting around waiting in line to scoop water out of a puddle.
So who do you donate to? Well you’ve got a few options and I suggest you explore all of them. Start with theKenyan Red Cross Society. They’re doing great work, not just on water security issues, but social development issues in general and the Bungoma branch of the KRCS was essential to this video project.
Next check out these organizations that do water development work around the world and even in Western Kenya:
How long was your shower this morning? How long did you let the water run down the drain before you even got in? Yeah that’s what I thought… come on, time to fork over a few bucks to one of these charities.
3. Start your own project. Clean water is a human right – everyone deserves easy access to clean water regardless of where they live. This issue is not isolated to Sirisia, Kenya, or Africa. It’s a global issue that is increasingly relevant in even the world’s wealthiest nations.
This is to say that your involvement in this issue need not be wholly concerned with “Africa” or “development.” Water is necessary for all life – human or otherwise. Where is your passion and how is water connected to it?
The mighty Colorado River fails to reach the ocean, towns in California have depleted their aquifers, andwater related animals, fish and amphibians, are dying out at unprecedented rates…
Generally speaking, we, as humans, need to change the way we think about water. Use your talents, whatever they are, and be a part of that change.
Well, if I've come even close to inspiring you please let National Geographic do the rest with their amazing coverage of all things water.