“Rivers, ponds, lakes, and streams – they all have different names, but they all contain water. Just as religions do – they all contain truths” – Muhammad Ali
Exists in my small town a small sink. There’s nothing particularly beautiful about this white sink. It hangs three or four feet from the ground, attached to a wall just through the main doors of a local bar, seemingly out of place among tables and chairs. Framed directly above the sink is a curvy mirror, casting its reflection of customers in the space opposite. Resting on the ledge next to the shiny, metallic spout are two, small cups, both shades of pink.
On any given day, this sink is frequented by a variety of members of the community, since the owner of the bar allows anyone from outside to enter and quench their thirst during long hours in the sun, often working in manual labor or selling items on the street.
There are the young men with dirty, sleeveless shirts and cut-off jean shorts, who drain the small cups in one big gulp while also moving their faces side to side to examine their reflection in the mirror, pulling at strands of hair or dirt that rest upon their faces.
There are the young children who stand just outside the bar doors, hesitant to enter. They first scan the inside of the open-air bar, locking eyes with strangers, before taking the first step toward the sink. They swiftly gather as a small group, reaching up to open the spout, filling the small cups, and drinking, before dropping the cups and quickly retreating.
The visits are always short: in, quick drink, out, repeat. To many of the people who visit the sink, the environment of the bar inside the large, metal, gated doors is a foreign one. While they work tirelessly during the day, they are unfamiliar with the luxuries of disposable income, especially to be spent on cold beverages. To them, drinkable water is their luxury.
A River Runs Through It
“You first,” I say to Wilson as we approach a flowing stream near the main part of the river. “Then I’ll follow.”
He and his father both laugh as they remove their shoes, empty the contents of their pockets into the deepest part of their sneakers, and hold them above their waists as they enter slowly into the water.
It’s mid-August, two weeks after arriving at my site, and since we are still technically in winter, the river is low with wide banks of sand and rock in the valley. Wilson and his father, my neighbors, have invited me to join them and their family on a trip to the River Lurio, just outside Namapa. We walk the wide valley with our final destination being the main flow of the river, just near and under the bridge that connects both sides of the valley.
They both make a high-pitched sound and laugh as they enter the water, which reaches them just above their pant line. As promised, I remove my shoes, empty my pockets, and follow them across the small stream separating me from them. The water is softly pushing against my torso as I make my way across. On the other side, we continue to walk along the sand and rock, this time more slowly and with slightly more pain, as we are still shoeless.
In the distance, we are able to see a large group of people sitting along the main flow of the river. To either side of the group are boulders with jagged edges. Atop the boulders are shirts, pants, and other articles of clothes, stretched out along the surface of the rock, resembling simple drawings or sketches under the setting sun’s light.
As we approach, Wilson’s mother greets us. She is sitting along the bank of the main part of the river with her newborn baby in her hands. “There you all are!”
“Sorry,” Wilson says to his mother. “It took a lot longer than we thought.”
“No problem,” she said as she turned the baby in her arms and tightened the blanket around her.
We all sit down next to her as the entire scene of the river unfolds in front of us. Her other children, some with floaties, are wading in the waist-deep water, racing each other against the flow and laughing with every successful inch forward.
Farther down the river, under the long, cement bridge, older kids are jumping from the boulders into a deeper area of the river. Two teenage boys are shimmying out of their shirts and pants, revealing only tight, white underwear, as they quickly dive into the river. One pulls out a bottle of soap, fills his hands, and starts to lather his head and body. Others across the river are doing the same.
Up river an older woman is near the bank of the water with her arms deep in the water (photo above). She raises them, revealing a long piece of clothing. She uses her hands to scrub the cloth, dip it into the water two or three times, and she rests it upon a piece of exposed rock with other pieces of clothing.
Just in my view is a large group of children at the farthest end of the bridge on the road. With buckets and soap in hand, they clean the car of a passerby, offering their time and cleaning abilities to make a few meticais (the currency of Mozambique) to spend on candy.
The lower half of my body is still wet, but I find myself not feeling discomfort, but instead peace. As my new home, I feel like I’m witnessing an important and reoccurring event in the lives of the people of my little town.
Wilson’s mother asks if I want to swim. “I’m okay here,” I respond. “But I’m sure it’s a lot of fun.”
Heavy Clouds & the Floods that Followed
The power has been out in the northern part of the country for nearly a month now. The floods that hit the country in mid-January continue to have a lasting effect on both the infrastructure and lives of the people attempting to recover.
Reports (Huffington Post) coming out from parts of northern Mozambique, especially the province of Zambezia, are devastating. The floods affected more than 150,000 people across the country. The event is described as the worst flooding since 1971. Hundreds were killed, and countless families are attempting to rebuild their lives after losing homes, clothes, food, and livelihoods.
Residents of the area describe seeing people attempting to swim the river, since the flooding badly damaged the cement bridge, making it impassable. Many of who did not make it to the other side.
The rainy season in this area of Africa is powerful and fierce. The calm waters seen in mid-August along the River Lurio are replaced with wide currents of water, crashing against the tall boulders lying on the riverbed.
No longer are people bathing or wading in the water. Instead, they describe the danger and have fear of the resting crocodiles that make the rivers their home during the season of endless rain.
The issues with the floods go beyond just the river. Inside the community, houses that were built using a mixture of cement and sand start to crumble. The water finds its way through the tin sheets of the roof and puddle within the sleeping spaces and kitchens of homes. Roads and paths within communities are swept away, replaced with mud.
Communities come to a stand still against the powerful nature of the rain. However, within this harsh environment are bright spots of joy and adaptability. To describe it is difficult, but to simply it into one word, it’s stunning.
Letting Go & Diving In
Week two of the power outage in late January, and I want to go home.
The water continues to flood inside my house, first filling my veranda before finding its way into my kitchen area. In the darkness, I come home following a long day of work to find my house nearly unrecognizable because of the foot-deep water.
After going through my water supply used for drinking, showering, and cooking, I carry my bucket and flashlight to the mosque next to my house where I have been collecting water from their pump. I am told that the pump does not work without electricity.
The increase in rainfall causes more mosquitos, and the increase in malaria and cholera threatens to attack an already weak community.
One morning I wake in my bed to the sound of a strong rain pounding against my tin roof. The sound is jarring as you’re not able to really think or hear much of anything but the rain. From deep inside the noise, I hear the voices of some of the neighborhood kids outside my house.
I open my front door, and three of the neighborhood children, wearing nothing but small shorts or underwear, are using an empty, cut-in-half container usually holding oil to scoop the water that is collecting on my veranda and tossing it away from the house. They are laughing, and when they notice me standing in the doorway, they yell “Good morning, Aleksi!”
The sight throws me off. After two weeks of frustration and dark, energy-less evenings, it all started to make sense. Adaptability. Who am I to be frustrated with a tough environment after two weeks when the families in Mozambique live with this all their lives?
I greet the children, go and change into a pair of swimming shorts, grab a bar of soap, and I join the kids on the veranda in attempting to remove the flooding water. We sing a song together, and then climb upon the ledge of my veranda, just underneath the lip of the roof where water is streaming toward the ground.
I slowly push my head under the cold, flowing water. I let it flow down the back of my neck, across my shoulders, across my back and chest, and down toward my legs and feet. I feel the coolness touch every part of my freshly woken spirit. I lather myself from head to toe, pass the soap to the children, and I watch as they do the same, smiling and laughing loud. Little white, soapy men standing under the rain as the water sheds the soap from our skin, and we open our arms wide to welcome the new day.
Across the road, the owner of a small shop and her friends sit underneath the covered veranda and laugh at our antics. We yell “good morning” to them before running inside, grabbing towels, and drying ourselves from the cold water and cool, brisk air.
A Source of Life
“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water” – W. H. Auden
I find much comfort in this small sink. There’s something particularly beautiful about this white sink. While seemingly out of place, upon second glance the sink is placed exactly where it should be. In the heart of the community, the sink provides much needed sustenance for those who often go without.
The visits to the sink are always short, but they are constant and consistent. During the rainy season, people supplement the loss of water in the sink due to lack of energy by collecting water in large, 2-liter, plastic bottles just outside the doors of the bar. The water streams from the roofs of nearby buildings, and the children and teenagers take turns catching the water inside the bottles and passing them along to friends.
Underneath the covered area of the bar, I am able to watch all this happen before my eyes. No one else gives much attention to the already familiar routines of the season, but in my mind is the driving force for my existence here. My attention turns back to the sink, where the two, pink cups lay in their sides, waiting for the next person to arrive. It’s easy to relate, because so am I.
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Note: The title of this post comes from a quote by Leonardo da Vinci, when he said, “Water is the driving force of all nature.”