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Well (Friday, 2010 July 16)

July 16th, 2010

Congratulations everyone for finishing the first week of model school.

I have been complaining a lot about all the things I have to do — and I do have a lot more than I actually want to do, but right now I’m not doing any of them. Tomorrow I want to go shopping. Sunday is laundry. I also need to create some lab work for 5e on Monday (J-P is running one of the classes), and some lessons for next week (3e: binary; 5e: output devices). Language classes tomorrow, including a "competence" on the hospital. And the most annoying is the program-wide "homework", which includes interviewing locals about religion, which is the social equivalent of pulling teeth for me. Fact is I could be working on any of those things right now, but fuck that. Julia mentioned beaching herself on her bed like a whale, and I’m not excited about that either (because my sheets are getting really ripe), but fuck being productive. Was thinking about breaking out my "other" laptop, the one I impulse-bought before coming here and still haven’t run, but haven’t gotten there yet. Instead I’m browsing Wikipedia articles on African languages, which could theoretically be related to work I have to do.

But what I’d really like to talk about today is wells. I’m not an expert in the subject, but I’ve brought up a few handfuls of buckets of water so hopefully I have something to share. Of course, I’m learning, as I have elsewhere in life, that I tend to think I know more than I actually know, so much of the things you read here will be vastly incorrect. Suck it up.

The word we use here to describe usage of a well (fr: puits) is puiser, or "to draw from". You can also puiser l’eau from a forage, which is basically a pump with a really deep straw. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the usage, but I think in English you "draw water" from a well. The process has two parts: usage of the well, and carrying of the spoils.

To actually get water out of the well, you first go to the well. Most of the wells here are open and, although surrounded by stone, built into the ground, not at waist height like you might have seen in the movies. To get water out, you need a dipper, or some other container that can hold water. If the well is public, a plastic bucket will probably be there already, with a cord tied around the handle. You need to drop the bucket into the water, but the plastic is lighter than the water, so if you’re not careful, the bucket will just kind of float on the surface of the water. I’ve seen three major techniques for handling the bucket:

  1. Drop the bucket until it’s just above the surface of the water. Then, flick your wrist and release the cord. Ideally, the bucket will be 90 degrees rotated when it plunges into the water, and will take on water fairly fast. If you aren’t very good, it will be at an angle and take on water slowly.
  2. Invert the bucket before dropping it — face it completely down. Somehow the air gets forced out fairly easily and the bucket becomes full, unless it gets some English on it and then who knows what will happen.
  3. Plunk the bucket if it has a bit of water in it but isn’t filling rapidly enough. Lift the partially-full bucket out of the water, and then drop it back in.

You can generally see when the bucket is full. Now, haul it up. This is an art. Generally I’ve seen people use long, sure strokes to pull the bucket in a few hands. The hole to the well is generally narrower than the well itself, so you’ll have to be careful when you’re navigating the bucket out. Then, you empty the contents into your bucket, which you brought for this purpose. Rinse your bucket first. If your bucket is big, you will repeat the above procedure until your bucket is full.

Now you have a bucket full of water! Good job. Now comes the hard part: carrying it.

  • Naturally you can carry the bucket in one of your hands, but this will render you massively off-balance. If you are feeling daring or want to integrate, you can try putting the bucket on your head. Something sloshy like water is going to require hands to steady, but generally carrying things on your head is easier than carrying them in your arm, because your arm and hand will get sore pretty quickly. Nevertheless, I find that I spill more water when it’s on my head, because it’s harder to judge equilibrium, so I carry it in my hands. I’ve seen people make a fist with their other hands and rest them on their lower back. Not sure this helps.
  • Now, walk back to your house or wherever you want to take the water. Walk slowly (fr: "doucement"), especially on inclines. You’ll probably overfill your bucket and spill a lot.

Lately I’ve decided to draw two buckets of water each day after school. That seems to cover my bathing and toilet needs (half a bucket for bathing; a bucket for toilet). The water goes in a bidon, barrel, that is kept (uncovered) in the bathroom. Today I drew three, which also helps to cover someone else, in case anyone else uses it. I get home out of breath and sweaty. Another trainee said, back in Yaoundé, "I am gonna have such guns after this", but consensus seems to be that you probably won’t, somehow. Plastic clothing is best for this activity, because the rope tied to the bucket is always dirty. Try not to step in the mud that is created by the water you spilled, because you will get the house muddy.

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