I want to tell you a story of water. It is a simple story, one that I could
add a bunch of application and wisdom to, but I don’t want to.
Yesterday was my weekly date with Bessie, my friend who I have
had weekly dates with for a few years.
When I called her she told me that she had no water – Diepsloot
extension 1 had no running water at the community tap. Instead of
lunch she asked if I could take her to fill buckets at a local tap.
Of course I agreed.
After hanging up with her I phoned Petros, our friend who runs
a pre-school just outside of Diepsloot in a place called Plot 1.
“Hello, Janet!” he greeted me, answering his phone.
“Hello, Petros how are you?”
“I am fine,” he said. Niceties exchanged; let’s talk.
“Petros, do you have water?” I asked. This was a measure of how
far water interruption stretched.
“Yes, we have,” he answered. I could hear him smiling. “People are
coming.” Petros knew that I was going to ask him if people were
walking with their buckets to his place to fill up with water.
He preempted my question.
“Which extensions are out?” I asked him, trying to get a feel of
which areas of Diepsloot had been affected by water loss.
“I think all of them,” he said.
“Can I bring people to fill their buckets?” I asked boldly. I knew he
was probably already overwhelmed.
“Yes,” he said, gracious as always. “Please come.”
I drove into Diepsloot through extension 9 where Portia lives,
knowing she would be at work but her neighbors would be home.
Right away her close friend saw me driving up and greeted me.
“Portia is not here,” she said, and I tried like crazy to remember her
name. It had flown out of my head.
“I know,” I said, smiling and shaking her hand. “Do you have water?”
“No,” she replied. “Since yesterday it has been off.”
“Can I fill your buckets?” I asked. Community in Diepsloot means
community. If I filled her buckets then she would share with Portia
and the boys and everyone would have water that night.
“Yes,” she said, already walking toward the emergency tubs.
We loaded three 25 liter tubs and four 5 liter jugs into my car and I
told her I’d be back. From there I drove into extension 1, taking note
of the long lines of people at the water tanks, big green things filled
once a day by Johannesburg Water during periods of “interruption”.
I called Bessie from the end of her street to tell her that I was there.
She and her neighbor met me, carrying 25 liter jugs and the basket
of tablecloths Bessie had washed for the church. Hmmmm...I guess
we’re going to Junction to fill the buckets and return the tablecloths,
Bessie got in to the car, greeting me with a long sigh. She asked me
to pray for her neighbor, who was already sick and getting sicker
because of the lack of water. Johannesburg Water, Diepsloot’s
provider, usually gives residents a heads-up when there is going to
be an interruption unless there is an emergency or a breakage...or
they mess something up.
“So, let’s go,” she said.
At the church we saw Bright and Tumi, who also said they had no
water (extension 4) and Lucky who said he was also out
Keep in mind that Diepsloot’s last census said that there was
150,000 people living in the close spaces that are mostly shacks
–factor in that many of the residents are children and elderly.
I was literally making a drop in the bucket for all that were without
water. My friends seemed grateful, but I was ashamed that I
could not do more.
After about an hour of filling buckets and containers Bessie and
I made the trek back in my overloaded Toyota, whose rear end was
nearly touching my tires. Bessie and I joked that we should lay off
of fried foods (we both are slightly doughy).
So we made deliveries- first in extension 6 where Lucky and
Charles live. We saw Charles at his table spaza, selling chips,
snacks and airtime. One of his customers came over and asked if
he could have one of the buckets I filled.
“Why?” I asked, smiling. “They aren’t my buckets, they are my
“Well, you can go buy another one for fifty rand,” he suggested.
“Okay,” I said. “Give me fifty rand and I’ll go buy another.”
He smiled suspiciously, realizing I wasn't buying it. “You have a car,
I am poor.”
“You’re wearing Nike's,” I laughed. “Look at my shoes, Pic and Pay
specials.” Charles was laughing, knowing that his customer didn’t
realize I was used to Diepsloot and all of its residents asking me for
things only because they have been trained to believe that we have
“You are white,” he said, finally. It was his ace he was waiting to
“I am Hispanic,” I said, acting offended. “Do you hear this, Charles?
He’s calling me white!”
Charles and Bessie were laughing, and the man sat down on a stool
by Charles’ table. He asked me for a job, since I wasn't budging
about the water I was carrying for friends.
“I honestly know of nothing right now,” I said, switching into a
serious tone. “But if I did, I would most likely give a job to someone
who was trying to find one. Why aren’t you out looking?” He shook
his head and I could tell he was discouraged. I felt bad for him...
but there were so many like him here. Young, discouraged, a little bit
drunk and looking for a hand out.
Further into extension 6 we met Richman, who was also in need
of new spectacles, which I actually remembered to bring. He asked
after Mario and we made polite conversation, then he told me
“Extension 5 just got water,” he said.
“When?” I asked.
“Earlier today,” Richman answered. “I think it’s coming down to us.” Richman motioned with his hand, illustrating that the southern extension 5
would trickle forth water once JW opened the main ducts from there.
We said goodbye- back to extension 1.
I decided to back the heavy buckets down Bessie's "street" - a
dirt road that is more the size of an alley - and I'm not so good in
reverse. I nearly hit the post of a shack while I was backing in but
everyone was forgiving because I was bringing water.
“I’m so sorry,” I said to the owners of the home, who had tapped the
back of my car in a warning. They were laughing and didn’t seem
upset. I asked to take their picture and they posed, graciously.
“Goodbye, my Spiritual sister,” Bessie said, removing the last of the
25 liter buckets. “Now I am going to bathe.”
She hugged me and we laughed. Bessie always looked nice; always
smelled fresh. She lived in a place with no running water inside of
her home. Could I do it?
I drove back through Diepsloot, passing line after line of people
waiting to fill their buckets by tanks that were either drying up or
empty. I wove my way back to Portia’s and her beautiful friend
whose name I could not remember.
“You are back!” she beamed, happily. “You were not overburdened
with the task?”
“Not at all,” I said. She thought I had only fetched water for her
and she could see I only had a small car.
“I will tell Portia you came by,” she said, after I had offloaded the last
bucket. My car’s suspension returned to normal.
“Tell her to sms me when the water comes on,” I said.
“Thank you,” she waved as I drove off. As I left to drive back to my
house with electricity and running water, I thought of my friends.
We are so alike in so many ways, but so different in others.
Last night, before a meeting, I called Portia.
“I am still on my way home,” she said. “I worked after-care today.”
“So you don’t know if the water is turned on yet?” I asked. I could
hear the din of taxi noise in the background.
“I’ll call you when I get home,” she said. Later that night she called
and we made arrangements for the next day. Portia and the boys
spend the night at least once a month where we catch up and have
extended time together, so we made a plan that if the water was not
on by the morning I would pick her up for our visit very early so she
could do the washing at our house.
When I woke up this morning I poured myself a cup of coffee and
did the dishes. How much I take for granted! Clean water, delicious
and nourishing, is not a right of mine, but a privilege.
I thought of Portia and decided to call her.
Just then I got an sms from her, as if she were reading my mind:
“Hi Janet u cn pick us @3 the water is back on & am doing the
washing now thanx.”
I sms’d back: “Yea for water! See you at 3.”
Yea for water... yea for water.