Water Mamas

26 April 2009

My Monday mornings are always a bit stressful.  It is my job to literally wade out into a crowd of local Congolese women and select 10 of them to be our water haulers – our Water Mamas – for the week. 

Inside the compound, we officially start each day with a morning meeting at 8:00 am.  The crowd outside the gate is already gathering by then.  If you were one of these women, you would be there early to stake out your spot.  Likely, you have a baby strapped to your back and have your two oldest daughters waiting in different parts of the line to increase your chances.  This is the only real opportunity you’ll have to earn any money this week so it is a big deal.  Everyone is talking, there is some pushing and an argument breaks out beside you as someone tries to force her way into the line.  A mixture of excitement, hope and desperation can be felt in the air.


Immediately after the morning meeting, it’s time.  Trailing behind my Assistant Log, I head outside the compound and am greeted by over 300 people like you.  Some try to grab the numbers out of my hand.  Others tug on my sleeves, hoping to attract my attention and increase their chances.  But most just wait patiently.  Hoping that maybe this week I might pick them.  Not the favorite part of my job, that’s for sure.



Monday Morning Selection


Directions are shouted in Kiluba and the women from last week grudgingly leave their spot in the line, hopes of being selected again now gone.  I make a relatively futile attempt to kick out the students and pregnant women and to arrange everyone into a couple of lines.  Then, with a number already picked in my head, I start counting. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…33, 34, 35!  If you’re picked, you get a piece of paper with a number on it and I continue counting as you run down the center of the two lines, cheering like you just won the lottery!


You’ll immediately get your yellow, 20-liter jug and head to the hand pump to start pumping.  20 cents per jug and you’ll probably haul around 75 throughout the week.  Facilitating everything from hand washing stations to wash water for the operating theater to expat showers.


…all of this so you have the chance to be one of the lucky ladies who can transport water for MSF for that week.  Congratulations!