By Faith Lindell, Becketwood Member
My husband Carl Lindell and I worked about 22 years in Africa, in the countries of Tanzania and Ghana. With recent news now about the coronavirus and the dire predictions of shortages— food on the shelves and medical equipment—I remembered an oft-repeated statement on my part in which I said we could weather anything, as long as we had water.
At first I thought only of our experience with drought conditions in five out of six years during the 1990s when we lived in Shinyanga, Tanzania. But then I remembered that in both of the other places we lived, we also had water challenges.
In Tanga we were on city water but the water pressure was so low that we could not get water up to our attic to heat water for showers in our second floor bathroom. So Carl was able to have a metal tank built and he was able to get it up into the attic and install it there. That meant taking tiles off the roof and putting the tank through the roof, with the help of others, all without the help of machines. Then the tank could fill at night when there was more pressure.
In Accra there was no hot water in the house. When our middle school and high school-aged daughters would wash dishes, water was heated on the stove and they would have to lift it over to the sink. We were worried they would spill it and burn themselves. After much searching we were able to find and buy a little French-made on-demand water heater. Carl installed it in the bathroom so we had hot water, but only in that room. Eventually he was able to put a pipe through a wall and move hot water into the kitchen. This was in 1974-78, when there were severe shortages in Ghana, like toilet and gasoline, so even finding raw materials for building projects was a challenge. One of our friends put a sign in their bathroom “Please use two squares of toilet paper only.”
In Shinyanga we also were on city water but there was a massive shortage of water throughout much of the country. With no storage system, often for days there was no water in the pipes. We were able to hire boys to take our five-gallon plastic jerry cans and find water. That did not feel good—though after Peace Corps young men told us not to ask where that water came from, I envisioned swampy areas and deep water holes. Then I realized the water also could be stolen from other people.
So then Carl had a metal tank built and he installed it on a flat section of our roof. Occasionally, that would fill and we’d have water for a while. We came home one day and found someone on our roof with a pail, taking water! We left that tank on the roof. Free water for the taking!
We needed another plan. We heard that 2,000-gallon tanks were available to buy, a three-day journey away, in Dar. It took awhile before we were able to arrange transport for such a big item to be brought the many miles to Shinyanga.
Much earlier, one night I’d awakened to sounds outside our window, and there was a man sitting on our car’s hood, trying to remove the windshield. That practice was as common as taking catalytic converters is these days! When our landlord heard he was very upset because, he said, no one was going to steal on his property. So he built us a good-sized garage, which we appreciated very much.
When the big black plastic tank arrived from Dar es Salaam, we placed it inside the garage. Carl worked out a system of gutters and drainpipes to collect rainwater during the rainy season from the corrugated metal roof, draining into the tank and, when we needed it, into the kitchen. Because of the limited rainfall during those years and the limited ways of measuring the amount of water left in our tank, we always wondered if we would be running out of water.
We never did get piped hot water in our kitchen in Shinyanga, but we could heat it on the stove. Eventually we did get a little gas hot water heater for one of the three showers in that house. It was a unique house: three showers, two toilets and one bathroom sink located in the living room because it is tradition to have your guests wash their hands before eating in your home!
I don’t want to underestimate the seriousness of these days of projected shortages, especially of medical supplies. For all of us though, perhaps remembering difficult times in our past can help us to gain hope for the future, that somehow we will get through this severe challenge to our country and the world.