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Photo by Celia Mitchell (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Entry), Indonesia Semester.

Getting Water in the Sea

Sometimes at home I hear stories about how hard it is for people in “other places,” vaguely desert-y hot “other places,” to get water to drink. I hear stories about how women and young girls will have to spend half the day going to a water source to bring it back for their families, again and again and again. But when I hear about these “other places” I don’t think about a community that lives over the ocean, surrounded by water on all sides and below.

We went for a sunrise snorkel this morning, and when I got back to my family’s home salty and tired at 8:30 I was imagining a quiet morning with my family. My sister, however, asked if I wanted to come with her to the closest island and I agreed without hesitation. Some of the boats in Sampela have motors, and some have tiny sails, but ours doesn’t have either – the 2 foot wide by 15 foot wooden canoe had to be paddled with tiny wooden oars. My sister Hawa put me in the front of the canoe, and proceeded to load in piles and piles of plastic jugs. Some were cracked or broken, some were missing lids, but as many as could fit in the canoe we loaded up. Eventually, with a pile of 15 big bottles and 20 small ones between us, our tiny ship set off to sea.

I don’t think I helped much in the paddling. We navigated under boardwalks and around houses, Hawa steering behind me as my little paddle splashed in the ocean and then back in the boat while I ducked under a low hanging plastic tube. The white tubes run along many of the boardwalks here, one of 3 or 4 government attempts to bring running water to the town, all of which have been unsuccessful. We eventually made it to the open sea, and the waves began to splash and rock our little boat. I felt so unstable in the canoe – every little movement to one side or another felt to me like we were about to tip over, and I didn’t want to be the one to send us spalshing into the ocean. But Hawa seemed unfazed still – only 17, she doesn’t go to school anymore and instead spends her days doing this. Behind me I could hear her singing as I tried my best to row.

We reached the market after 20 minutes or so, and I saw how we were going to fill up our water jugs. If there was much of a market however I didn’t see it – neither Hawa nor I ever stepped on the shore. We waited behind another boat and then got hold of the plastic water tap, which dripped the world’s slowest trickle into the water containers as we filled them one at a time for nearly an hour, trying our best to keep them from spilling out before we could seal them. Then finally, all the containers full, we paid and paddled back to our house in Sampela, a kilometer or so from the closest shore.

The amount of water we unloaded from the canoe seemed to me to be enough to last for ages. At home, water just comes pouring out of a tap and streaming right back into a drain – rarely do I look at exactly the amount I will need to use in a day. Minutes after unloading it all again, Hawa helped me do my laundry, and I saw exactly how much we needed: one and a half of the small kind. All that water, I realized, would be gone in a day or two, and Hawa would set right back out, paddling off again to refill.