Open Sesame

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
A frustrating wait and a burst water line.

Submitted: January 28, 2017

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Submitted: January 28, 2017




The water situation was not good at the best of times at Makumira so I had to carefully balance what little was in our tank between our household requirements, the tree nursery as well as enough for a few people who could not make it down the tricky path to the creek. It was normal for water to flow into the tank for around half an hour at 7:00am, but when it didn’t, I wasn’t overly surprised. As a last resort I could get my nursery workers to cart water from the creek, which took several trips for them because the nursery alone required about two drums daily. In the house we learned economise.

I was aware that no water was coming into the tank so was not too surprised when Nnko, the teacher responsible for the environment and infrastructure of the secondary school, arrived with four students. He wanted me to take them up to the intake of the water scheme ‘because there was a problem’. This was the typical vagueness of the language.

It is a long journey up there and I didn’t speak much because the track is steep and slippery in places. But I did fathom that the teacher and his students had been up there the previous day, which was why ‘there was a problem’.

The water scheme, I was told, was managed by some women’s group who apparently had used most of the funds on themselves rather than the project, so the work and materials were shoddy. Farmers tapped into the line, because it was plastic, instead of the proposed steel, and of course plastic is easy to tap into. Farmers stole the water to irrigate their crops and would often block the line with screwed-up plastic bags and no concerns for the people below who need household water. The teacher and the students had been looking for blockages.

Near the intake, water was gushing, damaging the track and a small farm, sluicing the soil and washing away recently germinated bean plants! It turned out that one of the students, digging for the pipeline had broken it with an adze causing the geyser! I was horrified that they had left the water gushing, damaging the elderly woman’s farm and crop overnight! I asked why they had not made repairs.

‘The school has no money for the necessary parts.’

‘So why did you drag me way up here?’ I asked.

‘To show you.’ Replied Nnko.

It was obvious to me that Nnko and the headmaster had discussed that I would probably fix the pipeline.

I felt sorry for the farmer, she had lost half of her soil, which was why I felt real pressure to rush, even though the cause was already lost for her farm! I also knew that if I didn’t act, it would compromise the water supply to the hospital, the local people, both schools and to my nursery! On the way down the hill, we called at the school plumber, fundi, and arranged to meet him either at his house or the intake after I had been to town for the parts. I had one joiner at home.

It would take me half an hour to reach home, collect some money and another half hour to get into town. It was just after midday when I arrived but at midday the shops closed for lunch until 2:00pm! Frustrated, I had to cool my heels, but meantime I managed to buy two lengths of four inch pipe from petty traders and tied them to the roofrack.

I was concerned about the farm, the time to make repairs and the time to travel as well as the necessity to irrigate the nursery that evening. I waited outside the hardware store, Tanga General and at 2:05 the Indian woman arrived with her Tanzanian helper. There were three padlocks securing the steel shutters covering the double doors, the woman handed over a key and the man returned the key it was the same for all the locks. The removal of the shutters revealed concertina steel barred doors with another three padlocks, again they were unlocked one at a time, each time the key was returned and the next one handed over. It was turning into a bloody ritual!  Next there were the wooden doors, this time with a padlock at the top and one at the bottom, those were opened by the same ritual! Finally there was a normal double door with a normal key and door handle.

‘Open Sesame!’ I said as at last I entered the shop. I think my comment was lost!

The power was out! In the dim light they could not find a four inch joiner, so to the storeroom, where there were three layers of padlocked doors! Inside the storeroom though, it was pitch black! The torch batteries were flat but Juma was sent running for petrol because the generator was dry! When he returned, there was light by way of a humming generator, but they didn’t have any four inch joiners!

Getting just a tad tetchy I drove to another store, Bulk Supplies who were busy with the after-lunch-crowd, so again I had to cool my heels! Finally, the assistant searched but could not locate a four inch joiner! While waiting I noticed one tied up on a neat display board!

‘I’ll have that one.’ I was not my normal polite self anymore!

The assistant finally acquiesced but jibbed on the price! I had just Tsh30000/- in my pocket and my hand was on the joiner - firmly. The assistant was not sure of the price, but thought it was more, perhaps Tsh35000/-! I did not bargain, I snatched the joiner and slapped the notes on the bench.

‘Don’t worry about a receipt!’ I called over my shoulder and I set off back to Makumira.

After picking up the teacher and his students, I rushed up to the intake where the fundi had plugged the pipe with a banana tree trunk and cleared the pipe ready to make the repairs. Water flowed again.

At the fundi’s request, he and I checked the line and figured out the cost of rehabilitating the line, but keeping the old materials. My funding request was approved, so we spent a few days carrying out the work. I spoke to the village government about illegal tampering of the line and received a promise that the matter would be addressed – I think the chairman was one of the offenders! Along the line we established new standpipes and taps for the village communities, and all agreed the hospital should take priority for water allocation.

Somebody unknown to me, perhaps the fundi or at least some appreciative person, ensured that I received my daily ration of water by switching the line on and off to the hospital.  The amount was well-judged because there was seldom any excess.

It’s nice when things work out.



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