Picture of ruins

Water, Water and More Water

Posted Oct 4, 2017

I filled my lungs with the scent of eucalyptus that wafted in the open windows of the Land Cruiser. Rain had fallen overnight, dampening and in turn settling the dust on the roads, making it easier to breathe today. Our destination was a clean water project in the community of Kashaso, high in the Ethiopian Highlands. Construction on the spring cap and reservoir had begun two weeks ago.

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"Ferenge! Ferenge!" came the shouts of passers-by as we rounded a corner and entered a village. With the exception of local bus transportation, vehicles were rare, and white people even more so. I’d been in the country three days now and was accustomed to the pointing, staring and shouting from locals, mainly children.

We continued past the village and up the hills, the Land Cruiser's transmission complaining at the steep inclines. On one corner we stopped to allow seven children, five girls carrying large bundles of sticks and leaves on their backs and two boys running with them, to scramble off to the side. Curious, the children gathered around the vehicle and peered inside. I raised my camera and one girls grabbed her friend and pulled her back to the window. Wide eyed, they both smiled.

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Several kilometers and another village later, we rounded a corner in the road and the treed landscape opened up to bare, grassy hills. We stopped in front of a circular concrete pad with rebar protruding from its edges. When complete, a reservoir would sit on the pad and hold water piped down from the spring above. Mounds of sand, gravel and rebar lay beside pipes and stacks of straw mats needed to complete the project.

I watched two men installing a rebar grid while a few others supervised.

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We then walked to a construction site about a kilometer up the hill. I noticed the sky was cloudier than the day before, and the air was slightly cooler, but less than 100 meters up the hill I could feel sweat dripping down my back and my clothes sticking. I stifled a giggle when our guide donned a black, down jacket. 

The small flowers and moss hummocks growing on the hill reminded me of the alpine I was accustomed to walking through back in Canada. There, we picked our way through scrubby fir trees, while here, we dodged waist-high thorn bushes. And instead of bears, moose or elk, cattle and sheep wandered about.

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We stopped at the edge of a ravine overlooking the construction site. Three walls of the concrete and stone enclosure were finished, and a trench had been dug for another wall below the base of the structure. Two men fitted concrete forms into the trench while a third bailed spring water flowing from the hillside. Like the first site, piles of stone, sand and gravel stood ready to be used.

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Although fewer spectators than on previous days, a group had left their huts and field work to gather on the bank to watch. I noticed one boy was missing his left arm and his right hand was wrapped in a blanket.  I couldn’t tell if there was something amiss with that arm too, or if this was how he carried a blanket. Also obvious was that fewer people wore shoes here than in Tsayte and many had circular scars on their temples, as if they’d been burned.

"What caused the scars on their faces?" I asked.

"It’s their medicine," the guide replied, "They believe burning the skin next to the eyes heals eye infections, but this practice is discouraged."

We sat on a grassy ledge to watch.

“When the project is completed, it will include two capped springs and three reservoirs that will provide clean water to 4000 people living in three villages,” our guide added.

I photographed mostly the children nearby. One girl, maybe eight years old and dressed in a green skirt, jacket and bandana, had markings covering her face and her arms and legs were much drier than that of the other children.

 Our guide questioned a local and found the girl was sick but he didn’t know what disease she had.

 “They're just two months away from having clean water,” I thought. “Surely this will help her.”

 “She’s from a different village,” our guide said after enquiring again. “Her village isn’t scheduled to receive clean water anytime soon.”

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It was time to go. We hiked down the hill to the reservoir, followed by the children. The girl in green and her two friends walked hand-in-hand with two of my travel companions, and at the vehicles, they didn't want to let go. My teary-eyed travel companion climbed into the vehicle. We spent the drive to the hotel in deep discussion, searching for a way to help the girl in green.