Mauritania gets running water and the Internet
Life in Africa
The major theme of last semester's columns was my life with lack of running water. Before I even got to my permanent site Mauritanians and Peace Corps staff kept telling me that the city of Toulde would get running water soon. There were even faucets spaced intermittently throughout the village. At first I was hopeful. But the longer I lived here the more I became resigned to the prospect that I may get running water in my last few months of service.
Then a miracle happened. A couple of weeks ago, I as I walked to my friends for lunch I saw someone turn one of the faucets and water actually came out. I stopped. I watched in awe for a few seconds. My life suddenly seemed luxurious. After living for five months without running water I almost forgot how easy it is.
On the second day of water, on my way to the well a woman called me over and told me I could use her faucet. I thanked her and politely declined. A part of me liked going to the well every morning, waiting in line, watching the women and listening to the excitement of the day. In another way I would also miss the glory that comes with telling people at home that I do not have running water and relaying to them a dramatized version of using the well every morning.
By my second trip that morning I decided to stop. I set my bucket down, turned the faucet and watched as a clear liquid came out. I was used to cloudy water on good days and brown water on bad days. Seeing clear water was strange and so easy. After using the faucet for the third day I realized I would never use a well again in my village.
But do not get the wrong idea. Running water in Mauritania is entirely different from running water in the United States. In my two years here it will never come directly into my house or bathroom. Faucet installation and monthly water bills are a luxury of the rich or of people whose relatives work at the water company. I still walk about 100 yards with my bucket twice a day. Before "running water" I walked 300 yards and used a well bucket. I guess it is all relative, but I feel spoiled.
I have only lived here for eight months, yet running water in Toulde is just one example of the changes within Mauritania. Technology is coming in such a way that decades of technological development — and in some cases the entire twentieth century — were skipped over. My village of 2,000 has 5 telephones, which for Mauritania is considered a luxury. The national cell phone company is in the process of building a tower. The cost and ease of using cell phones will make land lines obsolete before they even became widely used. It is a strange phenomenon that my village may get running water, cell phones and internet capabilities all in the same year.
Even I am having a hard time dealing with the rapid change. I cannot even imagine what all of this will do to Toulde and, on a wider scale, to Mauritania. Some people here are unaware that people have walked on the moon. I have been asked how long the drive is from America to Africa. They do not understand the concept of photo manipulation so anything they see, most will believe. This is an interesting time to be here in a country on the verge of running water and Internet.
Maite Uranga graduated from Notre Dame in 2000 as an anthropology and government major. She is currently a Peace Corps volunteer in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Thursday, January 17, 2002