Clean Water

A watertank under construction

Day 20: Navigational confusion. No water.

So, today we were meant to head the village of Njingarum, a few hours' drive from Kumbo. We left around mid-morning: plenty of time, one should think. We set off, and to start with the road was fairly good - excellent, in fact, by Cameroonian standards, with tarmac for the first couple of miles - but gradually deteriorated as we drove away from Kumbo, becoming a deeply rutted clay track. The rain set it at around midday, turning the road into a clogging, slippery mass of ruts and puddles. We headed north, and the climate became just a little bit cooler, and from the car we saw extensive tea plantations, with men and women picking the almost luminous leaves. Oddly, none of the tea we've seen for sale in shops here has been from Cameroon - it's all from Nigeria, just across the border.

Leaving the tea plantations behind, we descended into the valley, only to find the bridge washed out ahead of us. There was no way to cross with the car, so we retraced our steps and took a detour to the next bridge along; it wasn't far, only a few km extra, but the road was becoming ever narrower, steeper and more rocky.

Now, I said we were heading for Njingarum. We were. Unfortunately, the only people who call it that are people from the village itself. Everyone else calls it Ngarum. This wouldn't be too bad, except that there is another village nearby also called Ngarum; so non-locals call them Ngarum One and Ngarum Two, while locals to Ngarum Two call the villages Ngarum and Njingarum, and locals to Ngarum One call them Ngarum and Ngarum Two. And it appears that no-one outside Njingarum (except us, now) knows this; at least, no-one we asked for directions - even when only a couple of km from the village - had every heard of Njingarum. Still, we made it, eventually!

This village doesn't have a functioning water supply, and people are collecting their water from a stream. (Although, strangely, the house we're staying in does have the convenience of a flushing toilet: you simply have to fill the cistern with a bucket.) We asked to be shown the stream they're currently using - for our own use, as well as from a professional point of view - but they told us we'll be able to see it tomorrow. For tonight, they will send children to carry some water up for us. I couldn't decide which alternative was less palatable: being the recipient of child labour, or going without water for two days. (Given the language barrier - more acute here than in the other villages we've been in - I didn't really feel it was the time to start a discussion about the relative merits of differing cultural attitudes to child-rearing.)

Having become somewhat used to 'promises' here (the promise of use of a cooker of some sort, to sterilise some sampling equipment, in Ntseni comes to mind) I didn't think it very likely that the children would ever turn up with our water. Which removed the moral problem, but left the physical one: we still have no water. So, off to find the stream.

After perhaps half an hour of walking (and asking directions on the way), we came to the water point. It didn't exactly look appetizing to my sensitive western palate: the slow-moving stream entered a large and muddy pool, its banks churned up by the hoofprints of cattle, and littered with discarded laundry powder sachets. Even with the addition of chlorine I wouldn't have wanted to drink it. Going without water for two days is beginning to look like more than a distinct possibility. Fortunately, we aren't entirely out yet: we have about a litre between us, which will make for a thirsty two days but at least we'll survive without drinking from the stream.

Day 21: Rain, glorious rain!

© Aidan Reilly 2013