Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Water Story

Since I don’t have running water, I fetch my water from an old iron hand pump (connected to a massive tank) on the family compound where I live. The process is simple – I fill a bucket, haul it back to my house, pour it into a big 100-liter container next to my stove, and repeat until the job is finished. One hundred liters will last about a week. It’s used for daily bathing, washing dishes, drinking (after being treated), and cleaning the floors. Considering ONE shower with pipes uses much more than my weekly water ration, I feel pretty good about my water usage. But a little embarrassed of how much water I waste stateside. If only hot showers weren’t so miraculous…

Anyway, I’m not writing this in order to brag about being water-economical. There’s something else I wanted to share. After around 40-or-so of these weekly refills, I've noticed that it always takes exactly six buckets full (to the top) to fill the container again. It’s consistent these days because I have my water-pumping and bucket-carrying muscles built up enough to keep from spilling. So, it’s always six buckets full, and six trips between the pump and my house.

It turns out, six is an important number for another reason. It’s the number of terms I’m teaching. And since I’ve made that connection, my weekly water-fetching has become a metaphor for my time as a teacher.

The first bucket is kind of a pain. It’s the action sparked by my dreaded, inexorable realization: I’ve (literally) scraped the bottom of the barrel. I know it’s going to be extra work in the middle of some OTHER chore (usually cooking or cleaning) to fetch water. But I’m a little cheerful, because I know that I’ll be glad to have a full 100 Liters again. It takes a while to fill the first bucket, because I have to get the pump rhythm down so I don’t lose extra water that gushes from the joints of the pump as I work, and I have to concentrate as I walk so I don’t spill any water. And I usually am careful enough not to.

The second bucket goes quicker, but I get a little careless. I try to speed up the process, which makes it feel even longer. I get annoyed when I think “I still have 4 MORE WHOLE BUCKETS, how can I ever finish?! This is a nightmare!” But by the time I’ve finished mentally complaining, the bucket is full. I usually spill a little of the second bucket on the way to the house, and while pouring it into the container, because I get too confident.

I almost NEVER fill up the third bucket all the way. I intend to, but as I watch the water line creep higher in the bucket, I somehow convince myself I’m finished before I really am. As I walk to my house, peering down at the low water line, I make a mental note to fill the rest of buckets ALL the way so I don’t have to make a seventh trip.

The fourth and fifth buckets are the same – they happen without me even noticing. By that time, I’ve usually gotten used to the process and I’m thinking of what I’m planning to do with the water. Maybe I’m going to boil some water for tea, wash the mud off my chacos, or treat some water for drinking. At this point, I’m all about thinking ahead.

When number six rolls around, I become very aware that I need only one more bucket of water. I can tell my tank is almost full, and I walk a little slower to the pump. I’m relieved, but I look back and recognize that it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. I take a few seconds to appreciate the environment around the pump as I fill the bucket – moss growing where water leaks on the wooden stand, the scuffle of the chickens in the adjacent pen, the lowing of the littlest, loudest calf (named June because that’s when she was born), and the fuchsia-colored bougainvillea blossoms. I finish, content.

I know I’ve only taught two complete terms, and I’m just a few weeks into the third. But so far, the emotions and experiences correspond with my water-fetching experience pretty well. I don’t know what my fourth, fifth and sixth terms will bring, but if they’re anything like hauling water, they’ll happen faster than I expect. One question remains in the metaphor, though. What, exactly, am I filling? If the number of buckets represents the number of terms, what does the water represent? I'd like to think it's knowledge, and the kids are the empty water tank, but that's giving myself WAY too much credit. It's probably more accurate to say that the water is patience. Or understanding. And that I'M the empty tank. But maybe the whirlwind of the next few terms will give me the answer.

I just hope I remember to stop and smell the bougainvilleas.

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