image courtesy of photobucket.com
Indoor plumbing is not the easiest service to come by in Geita, Tanzania. The city does have a water distribution system, and it’s a cheap one at that — my last bill covered a span of two months and cost a total of $12. But I’d gladly pay a little more cash to have water more than four hours a week. The problem here is a general shortage of water. There are three large reservoirs surrounding Geita, but they currently don’t hold enough water to serve all of town for even a short time every day. On average, water comes to our house two days a week, for a couple of hours at a time.
Most people here don’t bother with indoor plumbing. Many fetch buckets of water from wherever they can that day. Those with running water on their property generally fill up a large tank in their yard, and then dip out a few buckets at a time throughout the day for washing, cleaning, and cooking. Most of this latter group, interestingly enough, have indoor plumbing but don’t use it. Rather, small buckets of water are permanently stored next to sinks and toilets. You can imagine the frustration you’d experience if city water ran directly into your house’s plumbing, but only worked a few hours a week.
Though I’d be more frustrated if my house were complete with indoor plumbing, yet I flushed my toilets and brushed my teeth with water from the same bucket in the floor of my bathroom. The Harrison clan really wanted working indoor plumbing, so I’ll share with you our solution.
First, we built and set a water tower. It stands about 20 feet tall. To see pictures of the initial installation, see 2000 liters and 20 feet.
The purpose of the water tower is to hold our “pressure tank,” a 2000 liter tank that rests on top of the tower. This is the tank from which water actually enters into our house. The 20 feet (23 counting the slope of our backyard) between the bottom of the tank and the bottom of our house provide enough gravity-powered pressure for us to take showers, fill toilet tanks, and use faucets.
We have a “reservoir tank” on the ground that is (occasionally) filled by water from the city. Whenever water is available, it enters this 2000 liter bottom tank. You can see the water meter to the right in both the picture above and the one below. That’s where the water enters our yard, and you can see the flexible pipe running up the right side of the tank in the picture below. This pipe feeds our reservoir tank. If both tanks are full (rarely happens), we’re able to store 4000 liters, which is 1,056 gallons, for all you yanks.
We installed a ball float valve (just like in most toilets) that prevents the reservoir tank from being overfilled. Once water reaches the top of this tank, no more is allowed to enter.
In order to fill the pressure tank on top of the tower, we have to use a pump. The pump pulls water from the reservoir tank and pushes it up the tower and into the top tank. If the water from the city came with enough pressure, we could have allowed it to enter directly into the pressure tank (and skipped several of these steps). But it doesn’t.
From the reservoir tank, then, comes all the water we drink, and with which we shower and wash clothes and dishes. I placed this shower just at the bottom of the tower; and I use it when returning from runs or dirty work. [This picture is faked; there’s no water, and I had shorts on. Christie thought it would be “funny.”]
While we’re on the subject of water, this is often what our city water looks like. We bathe, wash dishes, and clean with it as it comes. But we filter it before drinking.
You can imagine that occasionally we run out of water. Four hours a week seems to be just enough, but often something happens to prevent us from getting water one of those days — a problem with the city well, a broken pipe somewhere along the way to our house, a bunch of people busting a pipe open and “borrowing” water before it reaches our home, or…
…trash, dirt, rocks or the like in the water line. The other day I noticed water was barely trickling into our reservoir tank, so I started taking pipes apart and found a couple of small frogs in the pipe leading to our water meter. One of the little guys was still alive.
Those of you who have spoken with me since our move to Tanzania know that I often say, “It just takes longer to live here than it does in the states.” Cooking is from scratch, starting times are optional, and getting water is a chore. But most days I enjoy the slower pace of life.
My advice for you: Slow down a little. Be thankful for electricity and other properly functioning city services. Enjoy your clean and plentiful water. And, for goodness sakes, watch for pythons coming out of your toilets — something’s gotta’ be feeding on these frogs.