Look in my crochet basket and you will find an astonishing number of works in progress (WIPs).  Perhaps I am a process crocheter–I love starting projects and once my curiosity or creativity is satisfied, I may or may not finish the item before starting another one.  Because of this habit, you might think I should have more empathy for the half-finished or neglected structures I see around my community in rural South Africa.  However, I feel a sense of loss and frustration for the opportunities and resources squandered by WIPs.

The house with some electricity and nearly running water.

The house with some electricity and nearly running water.

“The house has electricity and running water,” Peace Corps said during our conference call before leaving America.  This statement is half-true.  There is electricity in one room in the house, and extension cords snake their way from this room to the distal regions.  All the rooms have wiring; all that is required is to install outlets, switches, and a distribution box.  The hard work is already done.  Why take years and years to give that extra push to make the house completely electrified?

The house does have pipes, sinks, and faucets, and when the tank on the tower is full and the valve is open, we can get running water.  However, the tank had laid empty for many years and on its second filling, the pressure proved to be too much and the tank burst.  Its carcass still lies on the school grounds.  The kids now like to feel the biceps I have developed by hauling water from the borehole.

Everybody loves to hang out at the borehole. EVERYBODY.

Everybody loves to hang out at the borehole. EVERYBODY.

The hand pump at the borehole was once obsolete.  A windmill once pumped water up to the tower tank (in its younger days), supplying the house, the administration block, and a standpipe.  Windmills make my Nebraskan heart sing.  There is so much wind power here, I’m surprised there aren’t more of them.  Unfortunately, this lovely Antarctic wind-powered machine was destroyed by a storm.  She still lies in a valley.

Casualty of a storm.

Casualty of a storm.

There are tanks, gutters, and pipes all over the school, but not a single fully-functional rain catchment system.  Gutters are missing, pipes lead to nowhere, and tank taps are broken.  After every hard rain, water pours steadily from the broken tap of the tank next to the 12th grade classroom for two days.  Meanwhile, we place bets on when the borehole will run dry from the drought and the increase of students and their laundry.

The pipe that leads to nowhere; a nearly functional catchment system except for . . . the broken tap.

The pipe that leads to nowhere; a nearly functional catchment system except for . . . the broken tap.

There was once even a solar panel at the school, a very sensible, progressive use of a renewable resource.  The current teachers don’t remember what it powered:  perhaps electricity for the classrooms, perhaps a water pump.  It was stolen.  Now the frame serves as a hot spot for after-school scrambling and hanging out.

The empty solar panel frame. Where all the cool kids hang out.

The empty solar panel frame. Where all the cool kids hang out.

The current acting principal has a vision.  If he gets the principal position permanently, he wants to fix the gutters, reinforce the water tower, and install globes in the house.  He also wants a strong, sturdy gate to prevent the stealing of taps and pipes.  He has even found a tap that comes with a lock, so people can’t steal it from the tank and the wee ones can’t bust it. He has already started renovating the classrooms, so we know he is a man of action.  The realization of his vision comes down to money.  It’s a no-fee school, so funding comes from the government.  The government takes time and often falls short, so schools often try to find sponsors, both locally and abroad.

The money may come.  Eventually.  In the meantime, rain falls unharvested, extension cords fill the gap, and the WIP list grows.

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The beloved borehole pump.  Sweetest water anywhere--just ask the pig.

The beloved borehole pump. Sweetest water anywhere–just ask the pig.

My room-mates have an ongoing bet. Mike has wagered one rand that the borehole will run dry before the South African summer rains return.

KwaZulu-Natal is having a drought.  On the coast, there are bull sharks in St. Lucia that have been trapped in the estuary for eight years because low rains have left the mouth closed to the Indian Ocean.  In our inland area, the maize was half-grown at best, and the livestock are eating the trees because there isn’t enough grass.

The desolation of Cassia:  before and after the munchfest.

The desolation of Cassia: before and after the drought-induced munchfest.

In addition to the drought, there’s a historically huge number of students living at the school, and they do a lot of laundry.  All the time.  Our fences are constantly covered in yellow button-up shirts, and the borehole is having its mettle tested.

Our house does have plumbing.  When it was connected to the water tank on the tower, we could even get water from the faucet, not to mention in the flushing toilet.  But the tank burst, so we’re schlepping water from the borehole 100 m away like everybody else.  We’re also using gray water from laundry to flush the toilet and save hauling a bucket or two.

For folks who are too far from the school borehole, there are springs coming off the mountain.  Some even have pipes attached.  Jojo tanks seemingly in the middle of nowhere must be getting filled somehow.  Small earthen dams are scattered around the circumference of the mountain to water livestock.

Extracting water from the mountain:  developing a spring and an earthen dam.

Extracting water from the mountain: developing a spring and an earthen dam.

Frankly, the borehole life is pretty sweet.  We don’t have to haul water far, and it’s high quality.  During my previous service in Kenya, people would ask me if I had running water–only if you hit the donkey hard enough.  Miu River had low flow and salty water, but many women made their living with donkeys hauling jerry cans of water scooped from a hole in the sand.

People swear this salty water is what made their goat meat taste so delicious.  Miu River, Kenya, around 2000.

People swear this salty water is what made their goat meat taste so delicious. Miu River, Kenya, around 2000.

A fellow volunteer recently asked me whether it was necessary for Peace Corps volunteers to live in “hardship” positions.  Many of us are, and some of us aren’t.  For me, roughing it is all part of the gig.  First, it encourages me to live a simpler life than what I might live in the United States.  Second, it ensures that I live at the same level as the people I am serving and can empathize with them.  Third, I don’t waste water that I have to carry myself.  Water is precious, and I hope I carry some of these conservation practices with me back to America.

Everybody carries water, even the itty-bitties.

Everybody carries water, even the itty-bitties.

Back view of the campus with the tank standing tall and proud.

Back view of the campus with the tank standing tall and proud.

“The house has electricity and running water.”  That’s what we heard on the conference call with Peace Corps a few days before leaving for South Africa.  Both are technically true.  The living room has electricity, but I’m using candles in my bedroom.  When the water tank is full and the valve is open, the house does have running water.  But there’s a leak, so the valve is only open long enough for us to fill our buckets for the day.

The water tank is a thing of beauty.  This hulking mass of green plastic is visible from far, serving as a homing beacon when I go for long hikes.  It is filled with a large municipal truck by students and teachers climbing the tower with hoses.  A highly entertaining enterprise.

Filing up the tank.  We actually got out lawn chairs to take in the show.

Filing up the tank. We actually got out lawn chairs to take in the show.

When the tank runs out, we use the pump for the borehole.  The water is sweet and cold.  It’s not a long walk, but it’s not a short walk, either.  We also compete with students (and pigs) for position at the pump, so Colonel Tom prefers to fetch water in the evening.  I cannot yet balance a bucket on my head, so I haul two buckets at a time to stay balanced.

This little piggy had whatever the kids washed off from their lunch plates.

This little piggy had whatever the kids washed off from their lunch plates.

Our tank was last filled on Sunday.  About 24 hours later, I heard a large booming SPLASH and peeked out my window to see our tank split in three pieces and a river of precious water running across the school yard.  It was spectacular.  The students cheered.

The demise of the water tower.

The demise of the water tower.

We have three hypotheses for the destruction of the water tower:
1) Lightning stuck the tank and split it.
2) There was a small fracture in the tank and it split under the pressure of being newly full (physics students will remember the “notch effect”).
3) The tank was not positioned squarely on the tower and being in a state of unstable equilibrium, it eventually toppled over.

I have dismissed #1. While there was a thunderstorm going on, there was no thunder at the time of the strike.  It would have been exceptionally loud.  Also, there is no evidence of lightning strike on the tank pieces.

I am debating between #2 and #3.  In general, the tank appears to be in good shape (aside from being in three pieces), so I wouldn’t expect a fracture.  The tank was certainly left in a precarious position, but how did the bottom end up on the opposite side of the tower from the top?  I need more evidence.
We are lucky no one was opening the valve at the time.  We are lucky no kids were nearby when it fell.  We are lucky the pigs weren’t napping beside the tower.  There’s talk of a new tank.  I have my fingers crossed for a ground installation so we can connect our gutters to it.  In the meantime, the boys and I are getting our upper body workouts.