Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Maji Imeisha. Water – all gone!

Kenya, near Mithini, 70km from Nairobi

Francis doing his best Comic Relief pose. 
He's not sad, he's just a bit lazy and hates collecting water
The rooster crows, the randy goat does his best Barry White impression, the puppies whine, the children run about making children noise, and I blearily wonder if Slimer will ever piss off and stop sticking my mouth to the pillow with ectoplasm each night.  It’s 6.30am and morning broke about half an hour ago.  My bed seems to have sagged another couple of inches during the night.  It’s time to get up.  It’s time to start the daily routine. 
Guilt propels me out of bed (another example of how you can’t leave your self behind). The older children have already left for school, and Ziporah – the eternally patient and caring house matron – has been up since 5am doing a selection of the million tiny jobs that make this place function.  Ciggie for me, porridge for the children (made out of millet, crimson red, minging) before they wander off to school repeating back to us ‘good bye children’.  And then there really is no more avoiding it – water collection time.

What’s your reaction when a colleague says they’ve just been for a workout at the gym before work?  Mine is ‘oh, wow, felt that burn huh’? before disappearing as quickly as possible in the assured knowledge that I have just escaped from a PROPERLY MENTAL person.  Well, I’m that properly mental person now.  Except my dumbbells are 25 litre jerry cans, my step machine is a hill, and my water fountain is a small water hole at the bottom of said hill.  

Bleary eyed we bump the wheelbarrow and jerry cans down the hill, 250 metres.  Yeh, well it feels long on the way back.  At the hole the water is scooped into the jerry cans, ideally from my favourite prostrate position laying over a rock, like the bastard lovechild between a beaver and a seal.  It’s then loaded onto a wheelbarrow and pushed back up the hill.  We do this two or three times, and tend to take it in turns for who pushes the wheelbarrow and who pulls it using a rope.  It was this activity that caused a domestic one day (hilarious I thought, not so much she thought) when I decided, as ‘pusher’, to act out the role of an ex-military personal trainer.  This involved shouting to the ‘puller’ (my wife, and a nickname I hope is limited to this activity) such encouragement as ‘you’re pathetic, that’s not the wall you’ve hit, the wall thinks you’re a joke! and ‘you don’t know what pain feels like, pain is what happens if you don’t pull harder’!   The flames were hardly doused when, as she dropped the rope halfway up the hill and stomped off back to the compound, I shouted out (still in character I’m keen to add) ‘yeh, well cry me a river, build me a bridge, and GET OVER IT’!   

Fortunately, the drudgery of this water collection will soon be a thing of the past as an American based organisation, Well Aware, have agreed to create a bore hole, an act that will transform life at the orphanage, and also support the local community.  And when I say local community, I mean local women, for whom a patriarchal tradition dictates that they are responsible for collecting water and then carrying it on their back, with a strap over their forehead.  Women drive this small part of the world, but have none of the power that should accompany their hard work.  It’s only feckless, useless layabout men you see slumped under trees, and it is only they that breathe their stinking alcohol breath over you and stare with their stoned eyes as they harass for a few shillings ‘for their children’.  I swiftly added the word ‘toke’ to my small Swahili collection as when ‘no’ doesn’t work, ‘piss off’ normally does.

Whilst we are on the subject of inspirational womanhood (that’s right sisters, we’re doin’ it for ourselves!) the founder of Well Aware, Sarah, visited the new orphanage with her boyfriend, Bradley, on a whistle-stop tour of Kenya to assess potential projects.  A youthful looking 36 year old from Austin, Texas, she gave up her successful law career to start Well Aware figuring, I suppose, that water trumped writs, that the ground beat the gavel.  She told me about a fantastic fundraising activity they run, the name of which I’ve completely forgotten so I’ll call it the ‘7 day stinkathon’, that requires participants to not shower until they have raised $1,000.  A great idea, and one which some of the commuters on my old tube journey seemed to have embraced fully. 

Her charitable spirit didn’t end with providing a well – on the morning of their departure Sarah handed us a bag full of treats such as porridge and, joy of joys, gen-u-ine Texan beef jerky, explaining that as their trip was nearly at an end they figured we needed it more than them.  Well, on the sight of the jerky I’m not proud to say that I lost my British reserve, and gave Sarah an impromptu, and no doubt fragrant, hug.  It was clearly her powers of lawyerly discretion that prevented her from asking if I could become the ‘after’ example for participants in the 7 day stinkathon, a warning against raising the money too slowly.

The well they are planning to install really can’t come too quickly.  Daubed in chalk against the limestone walls of the watering hole is the legend maji imeisha, the Kikuyu for no more water, written by some wag as a darkly humorous comment on the difficulties of the dry seasons.  Not only will it provide the orphanage and the community with a steady supply of clean water, but it will also reduce the number of water collection domestic disputes.  Now, FEEL THE BURN, MAGGOT!

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  1. Lets see if this works! I cannot imagine for one minute Helen stomping anywhere! I am loving your blog I too snort it must be a genetic thing.

  2. Dude,

    Thoroughly enjoying the blog, you keep writing them, I'll keep reading them.


  3. Thanks Mark, appreciate it - especially from such a voracious blogger as yourself. Hope the film is going well, and love to Rach. x