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Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Daily Usage: Cameroon

Water in Africa

Africa, Cameroon

by Serena Williams, Kribi, Cameroon

In the morning, I wash my face in the bathroom and brush my teeth with filtered, bottled water. Then I take a shower (or bucket bath if the water has temporarily stopped). As I leave home for school, I see the fishermen preparing for a morning at sea. At school, children often drink from the one outside faucet available on the school grounds. During breaks it is usually surrounded by children, and dominated by younger boys. When I leave school, fishermen are bringing their daily catch up onto the shore, in preparation for on-the-spot sales or for transport to the central market, where women take over the selling. Back at my apartment, I boil water, both for the filter (which has to be done three to four times a week) as well as for lunch and dinner, which generally consist of some vegetables and potatoes or yams, pasta, or rice. Throughout the day, before and after teaching, I drink bottled water to prevent dehydration, which occurs easily, especially as it gets so hot in Kribi.

My use of water in thePeace Corps differs from the way I used it in the U.S. in an ironic manner: I drink it much more regularly and purposefully here. Additionally, I filter here, and brush my teeth with bottled water, whereas in the States I was able to use tap water for all basic hygiene and cooking tasks.

by Kathleen Reaugh, Batouri, East Province, Cameroon

My friend Suzanne lives in a village named Tikondi, which has a population of a thousand. Because 80 percent of the villagers spend nine months of the year on small farms outside Tikondi, no one is willing to pay to fix the broken pump that a nongovernmental organization placed in the center of the village 10 years ago. As a result, Suzanne's life revolves around water. In the mornings she walks one-and-a-half kilometers to the small stream that provides the village's water. Suzanne (who is 23-years-old) spends one to two hours washing clothes and diapers for her new baby and her three other children (ages 3, 6, and 8). There, with her baby tied to her back or sleeping on a piece of cloth in the tall grass under a tree, she chats with friends and pounds the laundry on rocks until it is clean. If she has no money for soap, she borrows some from friends or does without. She returns with clothes in hand, baby on her back, and 30 liters of water in a metal pan on her head.

She may spend the afternoon soaking cassava tubers in a nearby stream. She leaves it for two days, then returns to peel it at the water's edge. Afterward, she cuts it up and dries it in chunks on flat rocks or concrete slabs in the village. Once dry, the cassava is ground up into flour, sifted, and then added to boiling water over an open wood fire. It is then turned with a stick to form the glutinous globs of the main staple of the Kako tribe, water fufu.

Before preparing dinner, Suzanne returns to the stream to bathe, laugh, and gossip with friends. She and her children all bring back more water (only her husband is exempt from this chore) to cook and wash dishes and bathe the baby. She cooks and cleans and finally goes to bed at about 10 p.m. At dawn, she awakes and returns to the stream once again.

by Karen McClish, Belita II, East Province, Cameroon

The staple food here is couscous, which is manioc flour mixed with boiling water to make a lump. We tear small pieces from the lump, dip it in a sauce (usually a leaf or peanut sauce) and eat it. It's yummy!

To make the flour, we soak the manioc tubers in running water (a stream) for three days, peel them, and crumble them to dry in the sun. Then we pound it into a flour, sift it, mix it with boiling water, and stir like crazy.

Without water, we'd have to just eat the tubers, which inhibits iodine intake and causes goiters. We're lucky to have water!

by Maryanne Pribila, Bogo, Extreme North Province, Cameroon

Every night I try to fill three buckets with water. That means one bucket of forage water, and two of either forage or well water. If I need to go to the well, I try to go at 5:00 p.m. because it's cooler and the water hasn't dried up. It's fun because all the women are at the well at that time. (If you follow the local language, you can pick up a lot of gossip.)

In the evenings, before I take my bucket bath, I put a pot of forage water on to boil. This will be the water to wash my body. It takes a lot of scrubbing to get all the sand and dirt off. If I need to wash my hair, it takes two more gallons.

In the morning, I like to sit on my front porch and wash my dishes. The rising sun always feels good on my face and is a refreshing way to start the day. Here we wash dishes in the same way as we do in the States. But the water is from a bucket instead of a tap.

I use a fraction of the water that I used in the States. I need water for the same tasks, but because it takes a lot of work to get it, I try to be as efficient as possible. For example, if I know I need to wash clothes one day, I'll keep the dirty rinse water to bucket flush my Turkish-style latrine.

by Madhuri Kasat, Garey, Extreme North Province, Cameroon

First thing in the early morning, I wash my face and hands (two cups of water). I brush my teeth (three mouthfuls for swishing and gargling). I put water on the burner for tea and oatmeal (two cups of water). I wash dishes (approximately one cup of water per plate or pot). Every time I use the latrine I wash my hands with soap and water (one cup to wash). Depending on what I prepare for lunch (pasta and tomatoes; leaf sauce and Algerian couscous; can or corn) I need some water. I pay a friend to wash my clothes—but not my underclothes (requires approximately two cups of water per item). In the evening I take my bath (half a bucket, one bucket if I wash my hair). I put a pot of water on the burner to boil (as drinking water). In the morning when it's cool I pass it through the filter (three to four liters). I am constantly drinking water. Perhaps this is what I use most of my water for. The dry, hot atmosphere is like a sponge that absorbs the sweat immediately off my skin, and pulls at the waters beneath the skin to wrench it dry. I must continuously replenish this loss of water. In the most searing, dry heat, I drink liters in a day but do not once urinate because the water escapes through evaporation. With running water in the States, I never thought about how much I'd really need to complete a task.

The people here have the same general uses for water as we do in the States. However, they have an additional concern: their animals. Cows, goats, sheep, and pigs are the main water-requiring livestock of Garey. (Chickens need very little water.) Cows, goats, and sheep are walked out to fields and pastures to feed. During the rainy season, it's easy to find a small stream for them to drink. The residents of Garey are currently digging a reservoir nearby to make watering of livestock an easier task. During the dry season, if no remnant pool of water can be found, people must pull water from the well for their animals.

by Lea Loizos, Bati, West Providence, Cameroon

At home in the States, I always thought I was being a conservationist when I would insist that fellow housemates turn the faucet off when brushing their teeth. Living in Cameroon, I have a whole new idea of water conservation. During the past dry season, due to a lack of time and energy to fetch several buckets of water each day, I learned to use as little water as possible in all my daily activities—dishwashing, laundry, bathing, etc. I think my journal entry from February 24, the heart of the dry season, best describes "A Day in my Life," as it relates to water:

"I have to laugh as I realized that my life has become a complex system of water classification: Water that is clean enough to drink is in the filter; water clean enough for bathing is in the big yellow garbage pail with lid; water clean enough for rinsing dishes goes in one bucket, water clean enough for washing—but not rinsing—dishes in another; and finally the water that is too gross for anything except the compost bucket. Then, of course, there are random bits of water left over. Like the water used to oil the plantains in—clean enough but not exactly drinkable. Or the leftover water from my bucket bath—put it back in the big yellow pail or use as dish rinsing water? Thus I spend ridiculous amounts of time deciding in which category to place my many buckets and pots of water."

by Brooke Levandowski, Buea, Southwest Providence, Cameroon

In the morning, I heat water for tea and breakfast. Usually I bring a 1.5-liter bottle of boiled and filtered water (or my Nalgene bottle) to school with me. When I return home, I use water for cooking and washing dishes, flushing the toilet, and the occasional cold shower. At school, teachers use water for washing the chalk from their hands and for drinking. My principal has a stove in her office to make hot tea during break. My own use of water is limited to chemistry experiments and cleaning laboratory equipment.

A friend of mine lived in Kenya for six months. After hearing her stories about water shortages there, I began to conserve water myself. This happened even before I came to Cameroon. My practices of reusing water have continued here, mainly because I have to pay for my water. At home, I wouldn't throw away water that was sitting out. But here I've been using water from washing dishes to flush my toilet. Hand washing laundry was wasting a lot of water until I figured out what I was doing and worked out a system. The area where my use of water has increased is in washing my hands and washing fruits and vegetables carefully before cooking.


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