For Australians, a common image of Tanzania (or pretty much any African nation) is little mud huts, women cooking over charcoal and children carrying water on their heads. Many times as we were preparing to leave Australia, people asked us, ‘Will you have running water and electricity in Tanzania?’ We reminded them that we would live in an urban context, on a university campus, not in a little village in the middle of nowhere. While there’s no hot water tap, we have two cold water taps in the bathroom (sink and bath) and one for the kitchen plus a flushing toilet. Having said that, for at least half the days of the last few months, we haven’t had water.
This is how our water is supposed to work. There’s a 1000L tub up near the roof. There’s a line of water that runs to it, so the tub fills up and then our running water comes from there. The thing is, the line that runs to our tub only sometimes get turned on, especially during university holidays. When we call the university estate manager to turn it on, he does it in his own time (an hour later? a day later? not at all?). But apparently there’s a leak in the line so even when he thinks it’s on, the water doesn’t get to us. It’s also possible that our tub is losing water somewhere.
I doesn’t bother me a lot (you know, until the toilet hasn’t been flushed for 3 days in a row and we’ve got visitors coming!) After all, we can buy drinking water and if the dishes don’t get done, I’m not really one to worry. Arthur has also worked out a pretty good system for getting Elliot clean using baby wipes! But it highly inconveniences our house mama who comes to do the laundry and some cleaning and I feel bad about that, though she is very gracious about it.
Sometimes the line between living in a village and living in a town is not as sharp as I might have thought. On a day when the power goes off and we don’t have water sometimes I wonder whether the only difference is that our house is bigger and made of bricks! Of course, that’s entirely simplistic, but I think before I came to live here I thought you either had water or you didn’t, either there were taps with running water or you went to a well or a river to collect water. Living ‘in between’ with neither working taps nor a nearby well has taught me that the question ‘Will you have running water?’ is more complicated than it may at first appear!
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.