This was my sixth incredible journey to work with the people of Africa as part of Marion Medical Mission’s shallow well project. Each year I have the arrogance of believing that I have seen it all, “been there, done that”. However, each year I am shown new experiences, which define my future steps in life. This year there were three such points in time that gave me pause and wonder of what we find out there at moments unexpected.
The first is around a bracelet. It looks like any one of those ordinary elastic bracelets worn by so many people. However, this bracelet was dedicated to Penny Carpenter one of my wife’s closest friends. In October Penny lost her fight against cancer. She was an avid traveler and loved my stories of working in Africa. Friends decided to carry an extension of her life by taking the “traveling” bracelet on the road. They set up a Facebook page to post pictures by all her friends with bracelets going to the four corners of the world. Mine went to East Africa, Malawi and Tanzania. I took a number of pictures wearing the bracelet, inserting it into the pictorial landscape but none really felt to be connected until early one morning along a remote mountain road in Tanzania when we hiked down into the valley to install a well. It was damp and there were only a few people at the well site. After we had installed the well I noticed a young girl excited about pumping clean water from the well. She appeared to be the same age as Penny’s daughter. As she approached the pump to be the first to draw water I put a bracelet around her wrist. It was something simple but meaningful for both of us. I thought of Penny represented by this young girl and the healthy new life she could now expect and she was beaming with the pride of a new bracelet, a new friend and safe drinking water.
The second point in time was also in Tanzania. It was hot and late in the afternoon. We had time for one more well. The installation was the second well in a large village. We were greeted by a huge gathering of villagers. The process begins with the installation of the pipe and pump and once water is generated from the well, everyone pauses to celebrate the miracle of what has transpired. Safe, clean drinking water drawn for the first time. It is also a time where the people give thanks to God for what has been bestowed upon the village. It is customary for the field officer to ask an elder of the village if they would like to lead the prayer of thanksgiving. Our field office turned to an elderly man standing next to us and he readily accepted. We bowed our heads and to our surprise the man began by giving thanks to Allah. After the celebration and we had returned to the truck to leave the field officer asked me what should be done if that happens again. I told him that if we believe that the God of Abraham is the God of Jews, Muslims and Christians then the prayer was acceptable in the sight of God and that we are all seen as God’s people. This was in keeping with the writing on the top slab of the well, written in Swahili and English, Mutukufu Kwa Mungu, Glory to God!
The third point in time came in Malawi. We had been working in Tanzania and as we began our return to join the others in Malawi for our departure back to the US we went to work a couple of days in the remote mountains around Ntelere. When we arrived in Malawi we were surprised to find that there was no bottled water to be found. But we had a water filter and pump. But the pump failed. I turned to my partner Bill Krech and told him what he already knew, we were in trouble. The first morning required a three-mile hike to install four wells. When we returned to the truck, hot and tired we quickly drank all the bottled water remaining. Next, during the heat of the day we picked up two more sets of pumps and descended into a deep valley for what would become a seven-mile hike. With each descending step we knew that we would be coming back up. The first well was three miles down. When the installation was complete we were exhausted and beginning to dehydrate. A mile walk along the valley floor brought us to the second well. When the installation was finished, I, with complete exhaustion sat on the well superstructure trying to comprehend the remaining hike ahead. We were showing signs of serious dehydration. I turned to Bill and said that we needed to drink from the well or we would not have the ability to make it back. We were in dire straights. That is when I got out my empty bottle and put it under the spout.