In the West we buy water that’s more expensive than gold, while the runny stuff coming out of our taps is free from bacteria. OK, so I believe that we should filter all those nasties out that the Govt is so happy to put in, but we don’t need to buy a plastic bottle of water. We all just do – it’s habit.
Here, in Timor-Leste, just as in many other developing countries, people drink whatever they can lay their hands on. Stomach problems are part of everyday life and therefore so too is dehydration. It takes a very short time for someone to die of dehydration and it’s a familiar sight, tragically.
The progress in clean water delivery is worth celebrating, though. On a daily basis we hear of someone working on fixing this problem, for the long term. It’s sometimes as simple as fixing a well or a bore, other times it’s the laying of pipe. More complex solutions such as those in WASH (Water Sanitation & Hygiene) programs out there are making a big change too, as they also try to prevent the contamination of the water source in the first place. Brian’s employer, Engineers Without Borders https://www.ewb.org.au/, is involved there and achieving great things, as are many others.
This water thing is close to our hearts as Brian is happily involved in the ‘clean drinking water’ project called Bee Lafaek (translates to Crocodile water, crocs being revered here, nothing to do with the water having crocodiliac properties 😉 You can see more here https://www.facebook.com/beelafaek/ but it’s a beautiful thing to be involved in and the extra bonus is that it’s an Australian product being used, and it’s good – it works.
Rain here is a double-edged sword: water needs to fall from the sky to sustain life yet when it does, illness often follows. I often ask “are you sick?” and they simply reply “Udan, Mana”, meaning “it rained, Sister”. Rain brings soggy yards, contaminated water and a range of illnesses. While we malae (foreigners) celebrate the relief it brings, many Timorese see it differently.
Also, imagine when the rain refuses to stay ‘in the great outdoors’: you are dripped on while sleeping and when you wake, your bed is in mud. Then the sometimes-deadly mosquitoes arrive…
Yesterday a Timorese friend took my two sons and I to the Nazareth Foundation as we’d heard that they produce filter systems for household drinking water. Her family, who lives in a remote mountain village, collects water daily. That’s an understatement as the collection is quite a mission that can take many hours in extreme terrain. Of course, the water has to be available (seasonal) and the end result is sometimes a jerry-can full of tummy-bug. We can’t have that, as these people are our friends. What we found at this run-down-looking industrial site nestled close to a bridge in Dili was a group of young men sporting huge smiles and an array of obvious physical disabilities. Being deaf, I was sporting my own, and therefore entered the yard with a soft spot for these men who have obviously been given opportunity by the Nazareth Foundation to lead a healthy, productive life. The yard is small and full of articles in various stages of production, eventually for sale; water filters being one of them.
My friend provided much needed language support as I stumbled through a Tetun conversation about filters, water and hope, generally. The leader of this group tried so hard to talk in English which was where my Tetun was 6 months ago: now that is a real disability, not being able to communicate holds a person back more than any physical ‘difference’. Saying that, our home country doesn’t look after the disabled anywhere near well enough but over there you’ll live an easier life with a disability, I believe. Medical services here are a mix of basic and non-existent and add to that the lack of smooth footpaths and a fair degree of social stigma and you’re better off here not having something wrong with you (another understatement). I feel privileged to be the customer in this yard, not the worker. I can pop in my expensive & high-tech hearing aids and go about my day while the amputee or polio victim navigates slippery mud, rocks and uneven ground. He will be wearing a big Timorese smile and a positive attitude; that’s an absolute given. It reminds me to wear mine.