Our pump is out of water. Not all pumps, but the one closest to our house. And the one in front of the nursing school has bad water. The next pump I’m familiar with is on the other side of the school and I’m not- I can’t – haul water that far.

Well, I suppose if necessity truly dictated I could, but I have succumbed. Instead, with the help of Gutz, we’ve commandeered a few kids to fetch a single bucket of water every few days. The rest of our water needs can be met through the temperamental pipes that  bring silt – and who knows what else-infested water into our waiting containers at sporadic intervals during the day.

But drinking water…drinking water is elusive right now. And it’s a bad time for water to be ify. It is the dry season. And dry it is. The winds kick up orange dust and spread it everywhere. And my skin is parched and tight, compelling me to slather on cocoa butter despite the blazing heat. And I’m thirsty. I’m always thirsty.

In Monrovia this weekend, I was thrilled that I finally crossed the threshold of tourist into resident when I moved from the bottled water sold in grocery stores at 70LD ($1 for a liter and a half) to the plastic sachets sold on every corner for 5LD per half liter.

The mantra to listen for is “mineral water” yielding sealed bags of treated water- “cold water” brings in bags of water that are filled by people at the pump or whatever water source they have.

Actually, I moved to the sachets last week out of necessity. Evaluating a training for USAID, they ran out of bottled water and brought in the bags to supplement the water dispenser (usually filled from wherever people can find water). Although I carry a liter with me everywhere…a liter is far from enough water during the course of a day in the dry season.

Ah the magic of the bags.

I am always amazed at how fragile my access to water can be when I travel. In South Africa my host father would pump water from our bore hole into a huge reservoir that lasted for weeks. Pulled from deep below the rocky surface, the water was delicious and I never filtered or boiled it. But when it ran dry, sometimes it would take him a few days to come and pump again. Then I’d be held hostage to the rain water collected from the roof – a much sketchier option. Beyond that I don’t know what I would have done, I never could figure out where the women in my village collected water in the absence of a pump. In South Africa we didn’t have the little sachets of water.

Even with the abundant hand pumps here I still find myself preoccupied with water. And when water isn’t presented in a processed and sealed form, I filter it. The reality of such high water tables in the second rainiest place on earth is that anything can find its way into the water. Doing clinic visits in Gbarnga a few weeks ago I saw an unlined trash pit that had blood products, medical sharps, and medicine discarded in it. I almost stepped on a needle.

Clean water takes on new importance in the shadow of that.

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