The Living Word mission team stayed busy Saturday scouting new places for building boreholes (a form of wells that are machine drilled and capped ensuring sanitary water). I was able to sit with their small delegation during a ritual meeting among them, a particular community’s elders, ministers, and political representative. It was a relationship dance, each contingent approaching the other strategically shepherded by intermediaries. What I mean is that who spoke, to whom, in what order, and after which greetings seemed to matter.
On our way through Navrongo, the nearest town center we picked up a local clergywoman whose role has been to introduce our delegation as we go. She and Mary Kay, our coordinator from the Mission Society and the HelpGhanaNow project’s liaison, established a relationship through the church and built on the relationship through Living Word’s previous school and borehole projects.
We arrived at our destination which was nothing distinct to me: a small compound of mud huts, a woman stoking a shallow hot fire with a large round kettle pot cooking on top, and a lean-to made of wood poles (limbs cleared of branches and bark) and palm fronds woven as the roof. We were invited to sit along the wooden bench seats in the shade. Our hosts used modular plastic chairs in the rows perpendicular to the wood benches – they forfeited the shade, presumably as a gesture of honor. Also perpendicular to the wood benches, Mary Kay and Michael, the head St. Louis pastor, sat in two chairs which our hosts had positioned directly opposite their own chairs. Together we comprised three sides of a square.
The local clergywoman opened with greetings of a trained negotiator or neutral facilitator, but she was sitting nearer our hosts than us. She then turned the program over to Mary Kay as if to say, tell us what you want to do for us. Mary Kay offered ritualistic greetings and then introduced our delegation person by person with several sentences of context about each of us. She spoke slowly and distinctly. No translator was needed. Though only one man among our hosts spoke, others visited informally later.
Exchanged information included: the name (including spelling and pronunciation) of the village we were now visiting, names and roles of people present, need the village spokesperson sees (various boreholes), where local people currently draw their water (in this case, they currently draw from hand dug wells we later saw, ones not covered, not clean, and not deep enough to last the dry season’s December or January thru March or April), and the distance women and children must go for the nearest borehole (women and children carry the water in this culture). We learned the nearest clean water was about a mile away – Mary Kay told them we wanted to walk the distance to experience what those who fetch water do. Our hosts were quite startled, but following their disbelief and general laughter, they set out to show us the way.
It was a hot, mid-day walk in equatorial sun. One man told Michael that some of the elders send their regrets that they could not walk with us…today’s weather was apparently too cold and they could not easily move in such (cold) temperatures. (One speculated it was mid to high 90’s when we returned).
The walk, the sights, and the conversation with villagers as we walked to their borehole were profound for all of us. The mud houses were quite spread out, often tucked into the fields and under trees, and had different widths of paths passing towards or by them. We stopped to see the hand dug well and continued on. Eventually, we reached the site, a hand pump with 8 – 12 people filling containers. Two young men had just finished filling two large barrels and were fitting cloth tops to them with rubber straps. The barrels were already in a cart and soon the young men pushed off – one pushing and one pulling their long way towards home.
Young children seemed to fill and carry buckets of one to three gallons on their heads. Women were filling and carrying much larger buckets reported to be 5 to 8 gallons (at 8 pounds per gallon, which means the women carry 40 – 60 pounds at a time on their heads!).
The videographer and his wife followed two young women on their journey and back needing more than 30-40 minutes for the round trip (and telling us they were afraid they would be lost had the young women not returned with them to the borehole for more water; the path taken weaved between and among multiple different unmarked trails).
Collectively we walked back to our starting point.
From there, the same hosts directed our liaisons to another site in need – we didn’t walk all the way to this one! It was near an elementary school without electricity or running water. Apparently, children are often most responsible for getting their family’s water. By locating a borehole near the school, a child’s water duty can be 15 – 40 minutes shorter freeing up time to help gather wood or work in the fields. By the time we arrived, 10-20 villagers were already gathered under the big tree. Presumably, word had spread through text messages and word of mouth that we were coming. 5 or more came on motorcycle, several on bicycle, and many on foot. Though no formal introductions were made, several streams of men, then streams of women, would pass to shake each white visitor’s hand in turn. The same happened again before we left. Overall, the meeting seemed to be as simple and as significant as sharing time together in a same place before dispersing again.
There is a massive need for clean water in Northern Ghana, no doubt in many other parts of the world too. Filling the need requires collaboration, including relational rituals as much as money and equipment. Collaboration requires mutual appreciation – for each others’ beauty and pride, as well as for each others’ realities. So I invite you to explore this story and any pictures I can eventually post here with a relational heart – no pity, just very different circumstances. The world is made of many different realities, all existing simultaneously.
Note: I invite you to notice today how water effortlessly flows through your daily life.