The Well


Najua’s large bright eyes glanced ponderously from the lines of chanting women as they danced exuberantly under a hot African sun. Her feet stamped in rhythm to the beat of local drums. Red dust rose from the fine dry soil. Melodic native sounds of shrill female voices echoed through the bush. Children ran excitedly, weaving between the colorful ranks of their mother’s exotic exhibition of culture. The Elders assembled with officious bearing. The men watched from a respectful distance. Two engineers worked frantically, connecting pipes and tightening nuts on the new equipment that would fundamentally alter the daily lives of the women. A project so long promised and so much anticipated was about to become a reality.

There was nothing to drink as the village sweltered in the noon heat. It was four kilometers to the well. Every day for as long as she could remember, Najua walked a rough trodden path balancing a large plastic drum on her head. The journey was long, arduous and stalked with danger. The weight of her burden grew heavier and the quality of water steadily degraded as the years passed by. There was talk of aid from Europe but with so much demand by so many villages the chance of success was a lottery.

One day a delegation arrived at the village and sought a meeting with the elders. They sat and talked, drank a local beverage, sampled a native meal and departed in two white vehicles as quickly as they had arrived. They had delivered a message of hope to the villagers. Help would arrive…someday, they said. The village was on a list.

Two summers later a convoy came to the village. A peculiar looking truck stopped in the center of the settlement. Following an emotional but inspiring discussion the truck was rigged to perform the function of a powerful drill. Many hours of constant pounding ensued, then it stopped. The drilling was successful. Engineers unloaded an array of equipment. They set about assembling a pump. The women turned out in their entire splendor to witness the means that would end an eight-kilometer round journey to the well each day of their lives.

Najua nervously watched as the engineers joined the pump to the length of pipe emerging from the ground. Her large curious eyes stared as she stomped the ground in knowing rhythm to the local chants. Like the other women her arms and legs were richly adorned with bangles and beads. She clapped her hands and followed the motions of the dance while maintaining a cautious gaze on the brand new pump. The time anxiously approached to commence operations.

The engineers indicated that their work was complete. The women suspended their dance. The children grew silent. The men watched quietly. All eyes focused on the bright metal pump. One of the men came forward and took hold of the long iron handle. He lifted, and then dropped the handle in a quick pumping motion. Another man joined him. They both worked hard. The rays of the sun reflected dazzlingly off the shiny spout. A splutter of water appeared at the mouth of the pump. A spurt of dirty brown water followed. Then, nothing happened. The noise of gurgling water echoed from below the surface. The pumping action of the men gained momentum. Further spurts followed in conformity with their dedicated actions. A gush of water followed. Then a constant flow of clear fresh water spewed onto the dry soil. Rivulets traced along the parched ground and flowed towards the group of silent awestruck women. The cold fresh water touched their hot dusty feet. A woman cried out in her native dialect shattering the human silence. The female watchers whooped and chanted. They danced in grateful celebration for the new source of life. Najua’s large round eyes radiated happiness. The trek to the well was over…

Copyright Bill Cooke May 2012

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