Friday, July 11, 2008


I was interviewing one of the clinic nurses yesterday and we came to the question:

What is your biggest concern for the village?

Without a seconds hesitation she answered me:

“Water. These people need water. Without water it’s like you cannot be human. We cannot go without for these days and weeks. They need water to live.”


Despite the fact that Botswana is covered in desert most of the population are farmers who depend on water for their nutritional needs as well as their livelihoods.


When I told my Motswana friends that I’d been stationed in Kumakwane I got the same response every time:

Ah. Kumakwane. Beautiful village. They have a water problem.

Further investigation told me Kumakwne is notorious for going days and even weeks without water. I bought a very large bucket.


When I meet with the Kumakwane kgosi (chief) he tells me that in his 40 years as chief the only time the village has taken collective action is when they come together for Dikgafela, a celebration to thank God for a good harvest (i.e. the absence of drought).

A typical Dikafela celebration takes place when the kgosi calls for a vote regarding the harvest success. If the village votes in favor of Dikafela, the celebration is announced and the village gathers together at the kgotla to share their food surplus and celebrated together with singing, dancing, drinking and eating.


The kgosi also tells me that the only time the government provides employment assistance is during national drought emergencies when citizens can register for work under the Botswana’s Drought Relief Program.


In Setswana the word for rain is pula. This is also the word for money. When Motswana cheer for one another they clap their hands together and shout “Pula! Pula!”

In Setswana the phrase “Ke Tu Metsi means “I am happy” and directly translates: “I have water.”


All of this I knew when I arrived at my house with no sink, toilet or tub. All of this I remembered when, after 3 weeks, the plumbers finally arrived at my house. All of this sat nestled in the back of my mind when, after two full days of work, my toilet was finally connected to the pipes. And all of this came tumbling to the front when, upon completing my house’s plumbing project the workmen turned on the faucet and VOILA

The pipes were dry.

Kumakwane was out of water.

For the first time I tasted this thing they had been expressing to me. This need. This urgency. Pula.

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