Realistically, I cannot answer you this question scientifically, but what I can share is how it feels when you live here. Believe me, water is scarce and not that easy to get.
Let’s start with the less rural area where I stayed in my first week. It’s a bit more advanced, but it does none the less also involve the fetching of water. Godfrey’s parents’ house is quite close to a main road, which means that they have tap water in their house and even installed rain water tanks. However, sometimes and especially during dry season, there is no tap water and the rain water tanks are empty.
The good news is that from Godfrey’s house you can reach the well with a bike, so from my experience it was possible to fetch up to four 20 litre jar cans in one go. Unfortunately not everyone has a bike, so most people have to carry it without any support. The bike is helpful, but believe me; I sweated quite decently pushing that bike together with Godfrey. The road is not really even and pushing a bike with 80 litres on it, requires certain persistence and experience. To sum up, this scenario doesn’t sound that bad, but let’s go a bit more rural.
This entails joining me on a trip to the houses, which are further from a main road such as Ttagga village, where I currently stay. From my point of view, the village is very poor, but my host family’s house feels like a princess palace. This means we have electricity almost every evening and the floor is cemented. Apparently the village even has tap water, but the family barely uses it because it’s too expensive. I hope I don’t even need to elaborate why they don’t have a rain water tank system. It’s not the government who takes care of such installations.
Therefore every evening kids go to the well to fetch water. It’s actually pretty far out and the worst part is that on the way back, it’s all uphill. I have already visited two well locations and both are uphill on the way back for around 400 metres. It should come as no surprise that most of the people here look like fitness models (minus the actual gym).
What is more interesting is that the labour behind the water fetching is done mainly by kids. From an age between 4–5 years old they start fetching 4–5 litre jar cans. Most of them carry it on top of their heads and they do it so well balanced that they don’t even need to keep it in check with their hands. For me it looks like some kind of magician’s act.
David, the oldest son of my host family (who is fifteen years old),carries a 20 litre jar on his head each and every day. I was already extremely impressed, but then he told me that his 9 year old brother Moses is carrying the same amount of water. This impressed me so much, that I wanted to try it out myself, hopefully lending a hand along the way.
Well, I like to call myself a pretty strong and resistant lady who has even finished a full marathon. In my mind I tried to consider it as a decent gym exercise and fetch water like a local. Even though Agatha, my host family mother, resisted for a long time to give me the 20litre empty jar, my stubborn soul won.
We went to the well with the other ladies, but unfortunately there was no more water available. I didn’t even consider that an option. Imagine walking that distance and finding out the water is not there. What are they going to drink tonight or how will they shower?
I quickly noticed locals pouring water from a nearby small lake, but its content looked pretty contaminated. I would not consider showering with it, let alone drink it. The ladies told me that this water can be used for animals whereas for the cleaner water, we need to go to another well.
Lets fast forward a bit to the start of my experience of fill my empty 20 litre jar. It’s done, now it’s time to put it on my head. I didn’t place it with a smooth, gracious movement, but luckily managed to do it without spraining any limbs. I was carrying it for around 50 metres, but very soon realized that I am not going to be able to finish the distance.
My head was hurting badly. According to my fellows watching me from the back, I looked very shaky and they were worried for my wellbeing. They were so kind to offer to exchange my 20 litres sized jar for one of half the size. I accepted this extremely kind gesture. The people are so kind and the respect I have for them multiplied, again. By the way; my fellows didn’t have any problem with carrying my 20 litre jar can and they made it look so smooth.
After I came back home, I took a quick snooze. After waking I still felt a bit weak and my headache had gotten worse. I was slightly getting worried that maybe it’s malaria or something else, and was considering the option of potentially visiting a local hospital. I am very open to all new experiences in rural Uganda excluding one. Going to a local African hospital.
Luckily, I didn’t get malaria and the next day I was fine after a long sleep. I shared my experience with Godfrey and as soon as he heard it, he started to laugh. He told me that you don’t simply start carrying 20 litre jar can on your head at the age of 29. This is what locals start doing very early, and along the years they get adjusted to carrying the weight of those jars.
It doesn’t sound healthy to me and I am pretty sure that I wouldn’t like my kids to experience it. However, this is the daily routine here and nobody really sees it as a big problem. Children are helping their parents with so many household activities. I am always wondering when the kids actually have time to do their homework.
After fetching the water a few more times, I started to appreciate it so much more. It’s really an interesting experience not to have tap water. This has naturally encouraged me save water each day. Now I am totally used to showering with buckets and 10 litres is enough for me.
The worst part however is that we are in 2019 and still so many people are fetching water each and every day. Imagine not having any family, being older or sick. How can you bring back that water? 80% of Uganda’s population lives in the rural areas which means majority are fetching water every day. It’s unbelievable.