The Water Carriers by C J Ricardson ©2012 


The sun is beating down on the backs of the small group as they trudge on with their bottles, buckets and jerry cans; only another five kilometres to the nearest water hole. Leathery soles pad the parched earth in a slow rhythm, kicking up small clouds of dust as they keep up a tolerable pace. The women, in their brightly coloured garments, chat and laugh in the relentless morning heat. The smallest children run between the legs of the adults, poking sticks at imaginary enemies while older children carry their own bottles and buckets; their time for play is over.

      Mardea’s baby daughter is strapped to her chest. At only one week old, it is the child’s first trip to the water hole. There will be many more trips before she learns to walk. Mardea and the other women hope that one day there will be water in the village where they live. They have heard of the programs that the big foreign charities are funding. It could be quite a while before they come to their remote village.

      The small pouch tied to her waist contains a few strips of dried goats meat and a piece of flat bread. Most of the women carry a similar meal. They will be tired and hungry when they reach the wadi and the food will be welcome. She prays that she will have enough food to encourage the meagre supply of milk in her breasts. She cannot bear the thought of losing another child to malnutrition.  The memory of a son born last year brings pain and she holds her baby tightly. Her son had only lived for two weeks. Food had been scarce and her milk supply had dried up. His mortal life may have been short but he would live in her memory forever.

      The children tire and start to drag their feet. They hold on to the long skirts of their mothers and try to keep out of the sun as it peaks in the sky. They know they are nearly there as the hunger pains intensify and this make them push on. As the water hole comes into sight, the children find a last burst of energy and run forward to slake their thirst. The women allow the children to drink and wait patiently for their turn.

      Everyone starts to fill the water containers. It’s a slow job and takes a couple of hours. Then they finally sit and bring out their meagre rations; eating every morsel slowly; trying to savour every bite. The baby suckles anxiously on the poor milk of its mother. Mardea thanks God for another day of life for her child. The chatter and laughter starts up again. The scene looks, for all the world, like a family picnic. It’s a scene of life and death and, hopefully, today they have all cheated death.

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