At the Kitojo Community Vocational Institute in Kabale, Uganda I noticed Agnes ambling up the steep driveway carrying three jerrycans. I ran after her and asked if I could accompany her. She nodded yes, then handed me a jerrycan. The school is building additional classrooms and Agnes is responsible for collecting the water needed to mix the concrete.
We walked the dusty red road that led to a well-trodden path into the village. The water tap is located in the center of the village behind a small mud hut.
Five years ago, the government connected the village to the national water supply. The villagers pay 200 Ugandan shillings, (.50 USD), for each jerrycan of water. Before the water tap was installed, the villagers had to walk several miles, high into the hills to fetch water, but now they are within a few minutes walk of clean drinking water.
We placed the containers on the ground then Agnes began to remove the lid from each of the containers and placed one jerrycan at a time beneath the spout until each of them was full. With a combined weight of 120 lbs, her task of fetching water is still not easy. I picked up one of the jerrycans by the handle and followed Agnes back to the school. The weight was cumbersome, and with each step the container seemed to become heavier. As I passed through the village I could hear the adults laughing as I battled with the container, and several children yelled out, “Mzungu!, Mzungu!” (Mzungu is a term used to refer to someone with “white skin” or a foreigner.) I imagine it was amusing to the villagers to watch the mzungu struggle to carry a SINGLE jerrycan.
Agnes had almost reached the school when she looked back and noticed my slow progress. She set her jerrycans down and walked back to me. She removed a wrap from around her waist, coiled it up and placed it on my head. Then she lifted the 40lb jerrycan and placed it on the cloth.
I had attracted a crowd and the villagers watched every labored step as I clutched the bright yellow container. With the jerrycan balanced precariously on my head, the slightest movement caused the water to slosh within the container, making it increasingly difficult to balance. “One hand, one hand!,” a woman shouted as I plodded forward. I decided if I was going to fetch water, I should carry the water like a native. I carefully released my tight grip from the handle and lowered my arm. I took a step forward and the sloshing water nearly caused me to lose my balance, so I quickly returned my hand to steady the jerrycan, which seemed to humor the villagers.
Embarrassed, but determined, I trudged down the uneven rock-strewn dirt road. Lactic acid built up in my shoulder muscles causing them to burn, and I could feel the weight of the water compressing my spine. As I walked down the steep driveway to the school, my legs began to tremble and I feared they would falter beneath the weight of the water, but somehow I managed to reach the bottom of the hill and Agnes helped me lower the jerrycan to the ground. I had only walked a short distance but I was exhausted. Fetching water is no easy task. I sat down on chair beneath a nearby tree, and as I leaned back and closed my eyes, there was a tap on my shoulder. When I opened my eyes Agnes handed me a jerrycan and said “Let’s go!”