Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Water Boys

Sometimes at night I can still imagine the pounding drum beat of a water boy. This rhythmic pounding is the lifeline of an entire community. In the Darfur region of the world there is no running water. Water comes either from the drying central lake or deep wells dug in dry riverbeds. These sources are often far from the showers and washrooms where the water is needed, and that is where the Water Boys come in. A Water Boy is a career that provides the link between the supply and the demand. Please, allow me to describe to you a water boy:

Meet Ibrahim. His hair is tightly braided and his skin is freshly oiled. He rises early in the morning and steps outside his dark hut, squinting at the already bright sun. He shakes some coals and a few weak embers rise. He quickly inserts some dry reeds and a flicker of a flame gives him hope for a hot breakfast. He heats some medidi (a drinkable rice and sugar mixture) and gobbles it down. He knows he needs his strength for the day ahead.

Once his stomach is satisfied, he makes his way through some thorn trees and over some brown grass to the animal pen. He unlatches the goatskin lock and swings open the branch that is doubling as a gate. He enters and approaches his capital investment - a donkey.

The donkey is ornery this morning and backs away from Ibrahim. He shakes his hand and turns his body, as if he is threatening to turn Ibrahim'’s day sour with one swift kick to the midsection. Ibrahim grabs him by his mane and calms him down.

"Agod sakit (Stay still)" he begs the large animal. Finally, with the donkey'’s jitters gone, Ibrahim reaches for a heavy burlap sack and places it on the animal's back. Then follows a coarse pad made of woven straw, a blanket and then a wooden saddle. This saddle is not ordinary for a bar is placed across where a human normally sits. This saddle is not made for joy rides, this is business.

The last touch to add to his steed is the most important piece of equipment - the water sack. This equipment is made out of leather and sits on the saddle. It actually has two large sacks, one sits on either side of the donkey. At the top there is one opening that leads to both sacks and that the bottom corner of each sack is a tied-off opening.

Ibrahim adds the other two essentials tools of the trade -– large buckets and a wooden stick - and he is ready for his commute to work. He makes his way through the quiet streets, through back alleys and under archways. Each house’'s front yard is surrounded by large, mud-brick walls.

He arrives at the well and stands in line. He makes his way closer and closer and pays the Well Master a small fee. He attaches his buckets to the rope and lowers them in to the well. Seconds after they hit the bottom with a splash, he strains and tugs and works the buckets back up to the surface. Once at the top, he empties them into the sacks on the donkey. He repeats this until both sacks are bulging full, seeping water, and the donkey teetering a bit from the load. Then, it's off to make money.

Unless he has specific clients - people who prearrange for his water delivery service -– he has to roam the streets looking for buyers. The way he lets people know that he is walking past their large compound walls is by beating his stick against his buckets. Bang- Bang - Bang. Now the whole block knows a water boy is near.

No luck here so he continues to the next block where a young girl sprints out of her family's gate and calls him over. She points him over to the family barrels where he parks the donkey. Now comes the trickiest part of his job as he must untie the opening to the sacks one at a time and empty the water into his bucket. Then, he must empty his bucket into the barrel. He must do this all while dealing with a donkey who simply doesn't enjoy the task at hand. So Ibrahim gallantly grabs the tie and lets some water through, the donkey jolts and sends water (money) crashing to the dry ground. Ibrahim readjusts and tries again. On his fourth or fifth time, he gets a full bucket. He ties off the sack and dumps it in the barrel. Once the barrel is full, the young girl pays him and he is done.

It's off again to the well, to continue his job as the town'’s plumbing system -– yet another way the people of Darfur have ingeniously beaten the odds.

In Darfur, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Survival is not an option and the people are so creative. They manage to find a solution to every problem. They reuse everything and waste nothing. These very people are now the victims of genocide. Please, help me take a stand for them and end their unjust murders.


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