A Drink of Water

1 Nov

What do you do when you want a glass of water? Do you drink bottled water? Do you prefer it straight from the tap? Or maybe you have a chilled water dispenser in your fridge?Of course, things in Gambia aren’t quite as straightforward!

You can buy bottled water here, but it’s fairly pricey at around ¬£1 per bottle, and since I get through at least two every day, it’s not really an option.

Many areas of Gambia now have taps. Villages may have a couple of communal taps, which anyone can use, but of course that does mean someone has to collect and transport the water, which is very heavy. In the towns, many people have individual taps in their homes, which are metered, so they pay for the water they use.

But here at Balaba, our water comes from the well.

Most of the time when I’m here, the water is fine for me to drink, but at the end of the rainy season, the water isn’t always clear. Silt accumulates on the bottom of the well, rain washes the red soil into the water, and debris such as leaves and twigs also falls in very readily. So at the moment, I need to use water purification tablets to keep my drinking water clean.

While that gets rid of impurities and makes the water fit to drink, it doesn’t deal with the build-up of silt and soil etc. in the water. So I thought I’d share with you my morning routine to make sure I have enough drinking water for the day.

We have a water bucket, which we keep filled from the well.


This means walking all through the compound….


…past the old kitchen (we’re building a new one, but more about that another time)…


and down to the well.


Our well is a good one. It has a concrete wall round it, and we have a pulley at the top so we can lift the buckets more easily. I’ve seen people using wells that are little more than holes in the ground, and they get water by simply throwing a bucket on a rope into the water and hauling it out again.


It’s also deep, which keeps it clean for most of the year. We have a small swallow-like bird (the Fanti Saw-wing), which nests in the wall of the well. It can give you a fright if it flies out suddenly when you’re pulling water!

Each morning I need to fill two 1.5 litre bottles for the day. I decided I would filter the water to remove the silt, so I cut up some of the lining of my favourite Per Una skirt (now sadly disintegrating), and made myself a small cloth filter.

I pour water from the bucket through filter into the bottle. This is fiddly and takes a while, but it’s worth doing so I don’t end up with sediment at the bottom of my drinking water. It’s amazing how much actually gets filtered out!

Once I’ve filled the bottles, I add the purification tablets, and leave the water for 30 minutes to give them time to work. It does taste a bit like swimming pool water, but at least I know it’s clean.


Meanwhile, I rinse out the ‘filter’ and put it on my African clothesline (i.e. a nearby bush), to dry.


This may sound like a huge hassle, but if I get a bit irritated, I remind myself that there are millions worldwide without access to clean drinking water, or who have to walk miles to fetch it. And often it’s the young girls who are tasked with carrying heavy containers on their heads for miles in the full heat of the sun. Charities like Water Aid, that are committed to providing clean water to those without it, do a great work.

So next time you fancy a drink of water, spare a thought for those who don’t have that option!


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