water, water everywhere — and a frog who’s in our sink

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.

setting the water tower

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.

water tower and tank system

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.

water meter, reservoir tank, and entire ground system

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.

ball float valve in reservoir tank

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.

water pump and reservoir tank

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.”]

outside shower

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.

a much needed water filter

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…

out of water, but no worries -- we've still got red sludge

…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.

one of the frogs in the water line

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.



Filed under how to..., just photos, living in africa

28 responses to “water, water everywhere — and a frog who’s in our sink

  1. Took a shower this morning at the Y. thanks for reminding me how well we have it in this country and so often take it for granted.

    • as much hassle as it may have been, i’ll take my outdoor shower over one at the ‘y’ any day. there’s just something nice about being in the open during a shower. nature. sunshine. and cold, cold water.

  2. You really help put life in the States in perspective. You know, whenever you return to the States, it’s going to seem opulent.

    • i suppose it will. but i won’t complain for the first couple of days. i’ll enjoy sitting in the a/c, knowing the electricity’s likely to remain on, eating burgers, and drinking diet dr. peppers.

  3. mikevalstephens

    Wow. I’m feeling grateful now. The water has been out here for the better part of the last few days now, but this is rare and the reservoir on the roof is still mostly full. And we didn’t have to go through all that to fill our reservoir. Praying for extra grace on the hard/dry days for you guys.

  4. Kim

    just goes to show the difference in the situation here in the states. I never even really thought about what it was like to get water in a place like Tz. Thanks for teaching me something new.

    • we’re actually pretty fortunate that our small town’s water situation is as good as it is. we kind of thought when we first arrived that we’d have to dig our own wells. that would’ve been a real hassle.

  5. That’s wild! It must be seriously frustrating on bad days but I still envy your slow paced, simple life. Rural Africa rocks! Having grown up in a small farming community in South Africa, your post brought back many memories. Your little girl will grow up tough and unfazed by the small frustrations in life and I think that is awesome.

    • it is frustrating on bad days, but if i’m honest we make it so ourselves. it’s our desire to take showers, watch tv, and eat foods similar to back home that makes life here frustrating. sometimes i feel guilty about that. our comfort is in many ways what takes time.

      but i do hope baylor grows up tough. thanks for stopping by.

  6. Man, awesome post. I was in Africa a bit back in ’06 and ’07 drilling wells in the bush, check out some of my older posts. We were there for only three weeks at a time, but I’d love to live in Africa long term- someday maybe. I wish you and your fam all the best..

    • thanks for coming by, andrew. i’m actually checking out some of your africa posts right now. though to be honest, i’m more interested in what you’re doing in china. i lived in wuhan, hubei, for three years, 2001-2004. are you living in chengdu, or just there for a short time?

  7. Great post, and what a great way to give back. In my opinion you both are living a dream, in which, as you have said a place that is not your home: But then neither are the states for that matter, as you point out on in the about me side bar entry…thanks for the inspiration…Oh, and P.S, according to source:Huffington Post, and a documentary coming out tonight here on HBO called Gasland…people here will be good to not strike matches near the kitchen sink when the water is running.
    God Bless

    • paul, thanks for stopping by. and for your kind words.

      and i’m really curious about why it would be bad to strike a match near the sink when water is running…?

  8. dylan Hagewood

    Hope you are doing well my friend and we still agree about all our soccer views. Take it easy and may God be with you Brett, Christie and Baylor 🙂

    • mr. hagewood, things are going great. how about with you?

      and of course we have the same soccer views; i taught you everything useful about the game that you know. just kidding.

  9. we have a cabin in the woods our family enjoys, and we have to set a foot valve in a spring down the hill for our pump to get water to it. my brother goes down to do that and at times has to chase out frogs or newts. this repulsed my mom, but bro said that he figures if the frog isn’t belly up the water is fine.

  10. synergythris

    Great story! Lots of work went into this one. I appreciate that. I see so many story with little content. Come check out my story and let know what you think…?

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  19. Angelica

    Hello! I am a student in engineering at Purdue University. I am on a senior design team and we are trying to construct a water distribution center (kiosk) for a slum in Kenya. We are using a similar design as your shower/water tower idea. Do you have any information or remember the company you used to construct it? We are having difficulty finding a tower to put our tank on. We could design it ourselves but we already have a ton to calculate and I know that there are places that do exactly that. If you could help I (we) would greatly appreciate it!!!

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