Thursday, May 22, 2008

Water Filling

I woke to the sound of roosters crowing and walked out into the early dawn light. My back is getting used to the cement floor, but I don't think I'll even get used to the bathroom accomodations. On my way back from the bathroom I hear the shrill voice of Jeeva, the mother of the family with whom we life. She says “Sister, water is on.” I scurry back into my chakos and say “I'm coming.” Appa, Jeeva's dad and Mathew's uncle, points east to where the closest tap is located. I pause at the end of the veranda to pick up an empty green water jug, and I take it with me down the dirt road to where I hear the water running.
A few times a week, when the government tap is turned on, the water comes to Chavadipudur. It comes in metal piping, and scattered thoughout the village are taps which come up out of the ground with a spout at the end that turns on and off with a key. We all rty to pitch in to refill the cistern, and we are all careful about how much water we use. I can't wash my hair everyday, and when I do I have to use the minimum amount of water. I have learned in the two weeks we've been here to wash my hair and body in 3/4 of a bucket of water. Considering that I have about 2 feet of extreemly thick hair, that's no small feat and I have every right to be proud. Laundry is another matter; I'm still working on the balance between minimul water and minimal soap residue in my clothing. I'm also working on my twirl and whack-the motion used to get clothing clean on the wash rock next to the outhouse. Actually, doing laundry is a good way to get out any pent up aggression, and the sound of your wet salwar or pants slapping against a solid rock is quite cathartic.

As I reach the closest tap to our house Jeeva is standing there with two water jugs at her feet, talking to a woman in a wrinkled pink cotton sari who is bent over her own water jug filling under the tap. After a few moments Jeeva points toward the next tap, a few houses down from where we stand. “Sister, go to that one” she tells me. I pick up a large orange water jug to carry with me to that tap and she says “you can take smaller” and gestures to the small green one I brought out. I say “I think I can handle a bigger one” smiling and trying to be more helpful. She smiles a little and gives a small chuckle and I know she is thinking I'll learn for myself whether or not I can handle the bigger load. I pick up the big orange jug and walk down to the other tap.
Another woman with matted hair that might be in intentional dreadlocks is filling her jugs at that spout. I recognize her from having passed her everyday on my way home. She lives in the small hut made of banana leaves on the corner and has a small child. Behind me Jeeva comes with the other jugs, and she sets them on the ground near the tap in front of her. I look at the sky, light orange around the edges and light blue at the top. The sun is not fully up yet, so it is not hot. It is warm, though.
A man with a turban wrapped around his head comes to the tap as well. I can see the top of his balding head with graying hair as his turban does not cover the top of his head, only the sides. Another woman wrapped in a wrinkled cotton sari comes as well. She stands by Jeeva, in front of me, and places two jugs stacked together on the ground next to her. Lines and turn taking do not translate into this culture, so I'm not surprised she cuts me off. Looking back to the first tap the pink sari woman is filling her jugs, quickely removing the full jug from under the tap and replacing it with another before the water running from the tap hits the ground. Then she grips the full jug from within the neck with her right hand and swings it across her body and up onto her left hip. She wraps her left arm around the outside of the neck and walks off with it resting on her outswung hip holding it only with her left arm.
A man has been sleeping on a string bed just outside dreadlock woman's house in the street. He sleeps there everynight and sometimes during the day. As I look he stirs, stretches up his arms, and stands. He pulls a bamboo matt off the strings of his bed and wraps it up quickly and deftly. Then he throws a thin blanket over his shoulder and picks up the pillow with this free hand. He dissappears into the hut, and then he reappears and tips the bed up so it leans against the hut and is not jutting out into the street. Dreadlock woman has filled a jug already and is waiting for a second to fill. She turns to him and says something. Then she hoists the full jug onto her hip with the same fluid motion pink sari woman used: right hand in the neck, swing across body and onto left hip, hold with left hand around neck. She walks down the street to her hut and the recently sleeping man comes to the tap to stare into the filling jug. I hear music again and it gets louder as he approaches. I cleverly deduct that it is in his pocket, probably a cell phone. As the water level in his jug approaches the neck both Jeeva and the woman to whom she has been speaking pick up jugs and step closer to the tap. Jeeva moves to slip a jug under the water as he pulls his away but he is faster. He slips a small jug under with his free hand almost before the he gets the full one out from under the water. Jeeva says something to him in her shrill voice, but he makes no reply as he lifts the jug unto his shoulder and walks away to the banana leaf hut.
Eventually, recently sleeping man comes out again and takes away the last of his jugs. Jeeva gets a jug under the tap next, the big blue one with the white lip. Jeeva turns to me and says “you can go to that tap”. I pick up the big orange jug and walk down the dirt path toward a tap at the far end.
The path leads between many banana leaf huts. Judging from the smell some of them are outhouses. In the dirt I see shallow ditches leading out from under some of the huts and toward the cement ditch where dirty water runs. When I get near the tap I see a woman there, washing silver dishes: two cups, a small container with a lid, and a small pot. As a approach she head bobbles at me and her movements quicken. She rapidly rinses the dishes and rubs them down with her hands, then she picks them up and walks off behind me. I slip my jug under the running water and wait for it to fill.
As I wait I see the woman walk into a hut without a roof and bend down so I can't see her anymore. A younger woman stands next to her and I her the clatter of pots and pans coming from their hut. Other than that I hear birds in the trees. They do not sing but chatter to each other, and occasionally a rooster crows from somewhere in the village. The village is full of chickens and roosters, so the crowing comes from all directions at different times. However, it's quite in the village compared to the city. Everyone seems to be out and about now, doing thier morning chores. The sun isn't even fully up yet.
As my jug fills I wonder if I will have to shut off the tap when I take my jug since I don't have another jug to fill while I take this one home. But then another woman walks down toward me with a jug in her hand. I grip my own filling jug just as the water reaches the neck and pull, trying to lift it slightly off the ground as I do so as not to drag it since Jeeva has warned me that dragging the jugs wears them out. Once my jug is clear of the water hers is under it, filling. I try to swing the jug up to my left hip, using the momentum of a small back swing as I have seen Jeeva and the other women do. I get it up, but not to my hip. I struggle to lift it a little higher and in the process slosh the hem of my in-skirt (worn under my nighty for modesty). I use both hands to get the jug up to my hip and as I turn to walk away I wrap my left arm around the neck hoping to be able to hold it as the other women do. It sloshes and slips and before I have taken two steps I am holding the jug in front of me and hugging it with both arms.
I walk back up the dirt path to the road, pass the other tap and finally reach Jeeva's yard. I cross under the laundry lines and walk up the two steps to the cement floor of the wash room where the cistern is. As I bend to avoid hitting my head on the door frame I splash my front with water. Finally, I tip the jug toward the cistern (which resembles a giant cement bathtub with little fish swimming in it) and let the water fall out, making more noise in that enclosed space than I expected. The washroom does not smell pleasant. The cistern had been getting low with all of us washing and bathing so much, and I could smell the fish that swim in it to eat the algie and keep the water kleen. I can't usually smell them. Once my jug is empty I hold it by the neck again and bend under the doorway and out into the yard again.
I take my jug down to the second tap and wait for my turn to fill it. When a woman comes to claim the currently filling jug I replace it with my own and wait alone for it to fill. When it is full I pull it out tp take my jug back to the cistern, again trying to get it on my hip like the other women. I get it there faster this time, and I do not attempt the one-handed hold. Instead I hug it around the middle with my left hand and around the neck with my right hand. I get a little wet on the way, but not as badly as last time. Or maybe I'm already so wet it doesn't matter. When I bend to get into the washroom does it slosh out again, soaking my feet and skirt hem.
Back at the first tap Jeeva motions with the hand swing that we are using it now. She tells me “other ones” and motions to the two other jugs that belong to her that are sitting by the second tap. I walk down and fetch them. As Jeeva reaches out to take her filling jug from under the water a woman at her side is ready poised with a very small red jug. Jeeva motions to me and I get my orange jug ready too. Jeeva pulls her jug out from under the water and toward the other woman, making her back up a bit and giving me a chance to get my jug under first. I worry that she wil be mad, but she says nothing, just sets her little red jug down next to my filling orange one and waits. When my jug is full she slips hers under easily.

When I get back to the tap, having wet myself once more the same as last time, Jeeva is filing the large blue jug, the biggest one she owns. When she gets it out she motions me to a smaller red and white striped jug, of medium size. “You can take smaller” she says, and I know she is thinking the wasted water dripping down my nighty and onto my shoes. Then Jeeva, who is about half my size, easily swings the bigger blue jug between her legs a bit and then uses the momentum to get it across her body and onto her left hip. She holds it with only her left arm around the neck of the jug and walks at a normal pace, hip jutting out where the jug rests. She doesn't spill a drop.


Nancy said...

At least you didn't have to swing those jugs all the way up to your head. Do they carry things on their heads normally?

Cathlin said...

No, they don't normally carry the water jugs on their heads. Men carry them on thier shoulders and in the city I see women with huge loads on thier heads, walking down the crouds.