Rifts in the family
Ireen’s childhood is similar to her mother’s.
“We did not enjoy our childhood,” says Happiness. “We would wake up in the morning, go get water, and go to school. Then we would go straight to get water. We didn’t have time to play. It was tough for us as children. We were always tired.” When they were about Ireen’s age, their uniforms finally became too ragged to repair, and they dropped out.
The two girls began working in other people’s fields all day, getting paid in maize — about 10 pounds for four days’ work. Their daily grind was interrupted by a visit from Samuel, the man who would become Ireen’s father.
Samuel’s proposal was no scene from a romance novel. “He said, ‘Is there a woman I could marry in your family?’” recalls Happiness, who was 15 at the time. “They (her mother and Samuel’s family) made arrangements, and then we got married.”
Happiness hoped that Samuel would take care of her, but instead he became jealous. “When I went to get water, he would think I was out meeting other men,” she says. “He would be mad and beat me up.” Just as water played a role in Happiness’ dropping out of school, now it was threatening her marriage. “It was really an issue, not just for our marriage but for everything,” she says. “Women have to spend so much time getting water that we can’t focus on other things, like our families.”
Rifts in the community
In Malawi and around the world, the lack of sufficient water leads to fights at water sources, according to a U.S. Agency for International Development brief.
The thought of Ireen becoming involved in a physical altercation frightens Happiness. “I fear that she will have to fight her way for the water,” she says. It’s not an idle fear; she’s seen it happen to others.
“Sometimes you’ve waited, and people just cut in line,” she says. That’s when the punching begins. In a neighbouring community where water is similarly limited, the chief instituted a one-bucket rule. “Filling too many buckets delays everything,” says M’mangepo Baifoti, 47, who goes to church with Happiness. But one day, a woman brought three buckets to fill. She wanted to wash clothes so her family was fresh and clean for church.
“It was bad,” says Phillipo Mankhanibo, 41, the chief of that village. “There was fighting and there was blood. They broke each other’s buckets. They had to go to the hospital.”
The chief settles a lot of disputes over water. “The area is so big that there’s a lot of water-related conflict — most of it, in fact.” And if there were clean water? He sighs. “My life would be much easier.”