Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Over the Hills and Far Away, a blog by Chris Courtin, who is a member of the Princeton in Africa program and is currently located in the Nymbani Village in Kenya. We thank Princeton in Africa for allowing us to share the blog posts of its fellows.
It probably comes as no surprise to you when I say that occasionally, it’s difficult to communicate with people here. With the susus [grandmothers], it is especially difficult as they, for the most part, speak no English. Yesterday, it reached a new height.
First, a bit of necessary background. Each cluster of four houses has two 10,000 liter tanks to store rainwater. One of the biggest problems with the system is people wasting the water from the tanks—kids playing with the taps, using it to wash clothes and plates, etc. Several of the susus were asking for locks for the tanks, so in the interest of equal access to water, here’s what I did.
Each tank was locked—two locks per cluster. In every cluster, and each susu was given a copy of the key to one of the locks. I have the keys to the other lock. The idea was that all four susus would share one tank and, when it was empty, tell me or the Homecare department and we would come and switch the locks. This way there were would be no disputes over who got access to water, or of one susu not letting any of the others get at the water. And it would be easy to adapt this system to having three tanks in the cluster—just get one extra lock.
The merits of this system are debatable but as a temporary measure until all the tanks were finished, I thought it was workable. I went to great lengths to explain it to the social workers and we had a big meeting with lots of the susus where he explained it to them, and we handed out all the keys. A few days ago, we had a bit of unexpected rain. This was great news—the crops hadn’t gotten enough rain in the last rainy season and there is dried-out, half-grown maize everywhere.
At lunch, I was talking with Nicolas about the rain and how good it was for the crops. I made some remark about how it would be nice for the clusters to have a bit of fresh water as well, and at that he gave me a funny look, and informed me that all the susus tell him that I’ve “locked up the rainwater so nobody can use it.”
Oh boy. Its back to the drawing board on that one.