ZAMBIA TRIP REFLECTION
A Reflection by Ru Perry-Mize
I picked up the bucket. I knew it would be heavy, but as I lifted it I realized I might not actually be strong enough to carry it all the way back to the village. The group (mostly women and children) that had led us to the river laughed and clapped as they realized what we were doing. Standing with the bucket on my head, I felt a little embarrassed. For them, I knew, carrying water is just about the most mundane daily task there is. Why should they cheer when we do it?
Putting it down now, though, would be worse. I needed to know if I could carry it back.
The two of us who had buckets on our heads started back. We picked our way up the steep, sandy riverbank. First obstacle passed. The people of the village, who evidently saw this event as novel and hilarious, surrounded us on the path, singing. It was almost a parade. This is silly, I thought. This would be like me cheering for someone for making a sandwich. But I was a white girl carrying water. Whether I was comfortable with it or not, that was a spectacle.
I was a white girl carrying water badly. It's harder than it looks, as it turns out. I wasn't good at keeping the bucket balanced, so I had to use both arms to hold it upright. It didn't take long for them to get tired. The sloshing wasn't helping much either.
In the end, I only made it about two thirds of the way back to village. Slightly embarrassing, but I don't regret it. Joining this project as a young, white American, I had certain reservations about swooping into a situation I knew nothing about with my Brilliant Solutions. It was important for me to move away from abstract morals or, God forbid, statistics, and into the shared space of daily life.
I was only a visitor, and I still know close to nothing about what it means to carry a bucket of water from river to village three or four times a day every day from childhood. I know even less about what it means to lose a daughter to floods or crocodiles or sickness. But I know the work of water is hard, and it is what makes life possible. The people who do that work–women and girls, mostly– deserve for their labor, time, and lives to be valued.