This was my tenth MMM installation season, but it was still exciting and rewarding to help the installation teams. Although I was mostly at MMM headquarters in Mzuzu working on data collection issues, I did spend some of my time in the field. Even within less than 2 hours from Mzuzu, there is a wide variation in terrain, and some of the villages were quite isolated and remote. Each village was unique, but the people in each one were thrilled to have access to a source of clean drinking water.
One day, we went north and east toward Lake Malawi, well away from any main road. It was quite mountainous, with long ridges separating deep valleys and sloping east toward the lake, which was unseen behind ridges in the distance. This was a new zone and the first protected wells of any kind in this remote area. Clearly, it was a big deal to the local people. The village headman at one well said he never expected to see a good well at this remote location. There was much singing by the women at most of the wells, sometimes joined by some of the men, and the harmonies were remarkable. A leader suggested a line and the rest joined in singing the line. Some of the paths to the wells were quite steep, up to 45 degrees (my guess) and a long way down. It was a challenge to keep my footing going down, and I felt the legs burn and the lungs strain on the way back up – and we were not carrying 20 liter buckets of water on our heads. Some crops were grown in the valleys, where they were wide enough, but also we saw furrows across the steep hillsides. It looked like hard country for subsistence farmers.
On other days, we went south from Mzuzu, up into the Vipya Mountains, then west down toward some villages at lower elevations. At one of the wells, we were addressed by a local leader who said that the well would serve six villages and 80 households (400 people); he even named each village headman. They were most grateful to have a source of safe water, and their long term plan is to have a source in each of the villages by 2020. They also had organized an officially chartered “Community Based Organization”, which runs community-organized centers for preschool children, where every child under 6 years goes for “learning and playing regardless of being an orphan disabled or a vulnerable.” He had a speech written out in English, which he gave me afterwards, although he spoke in Chitumbuka while the Field Officer interpreted for me. I was impressed.
Other wells were reached on a long series of very rough roads, covered with random little bushes, obviously years (decades) since a road grader was there and probably years since the last vehicle. Two of the wells were in a big valley surrounded on all sides by mountains, with no road access, and a brisk 40 minute walk to the more distant well. Not quite Shangri La, because it was dry and brown at the end of the dry season, but it felt quite as isolated as that fictional land nonetheless
There were many things to remember. At most wells, there was much singing and clapping and dancing by the women. Whenever I came up and shook someone’s hand, invariably a big smile broke out, men and women both. At one well, the woman at the pump when I took the picture was quite frail and elderly and obviously was not pumping vigorously, but she was thrilled to be the one in the picture. She sought me out afterwards and grabbed my hand to shake it, saying Tawonga! Tawonga chomene! (Thank you! Thank you very much!) many times, in appreciation for the new well. At every village, a woman and/or the village headman or his representative thanked those of us present for the well, sometimes mentioning MMM African staff by name, and thanked the American donors also. They talked about previously going long distances for good water or getting contaminated water from an open well. They asked us to continue doing this work and to bring water to other villages that do not have a well for good water.