Digging a Well

When I was in Kenya, part of our group was helping to dig a well. Without a locally available intensive infrastructure, water comes from the ground. You hope that the water table is high enough to reach, but also deep enough that the water is relatively clean. Without the infrastructure, everything comes from the ground, and everything returns to it. Boiling water to drink becomes necessary.

To dig a well you pick a spot in the ground. And you begin to dig. The topsoil may be a little loose, but soon you need to pick at the hard-packed clay before you can shovel it out. Then, after you pass about waist deep, you need to be extra spry to get out of the hole you are digging. And throwing the dirt out of the hole is also difficult. A team becomes necessary, so you can fill a bucket with the soil so it can be lifted out, emptied, and returned. Once the hole passes your height, and especially double your height, you really want to make sure that someone will help you out when your turn is through.

It is incredibly difficult work. Oh, I forgot to mention, we did it all by hand. I had gloves to protect my hands, but most didn’t. And I wasn’t strong, but even the most built men in our group were far out-classed by the nationals. Long practice of hard labor makes it seem not as difficult.

The problem with digging a well this way is that you have to go until you hit water. You don’t really know when that will be. And then you hope that the water is good water. You hope that your survey of the surrounding area was good. You hope that someone has good instincts in your group.

The payoff, the water for bathing and cooking and laundry and drinking, it may be a long way off. The well may dry up if the rainy season fails. That long intensive work may end up with water that can only serve to irrigate the surrounding crops. That’s what happened with one of our groups. The deep well was not as refreshing as we had hoped.

If you are lucky, then the water will swell into the pit, and then a cover can be constructed so that a bucket can be lowered down and raised up, brimming with refreshing water that renews life. The well can serve the community, bringing water closer to home, so that water doesn’t require such a long walk as before.

There are deeper wells that can be dug. They do require machinery, and they are nearly guaranteed to produce water that is good to drink. But they are expensive. They can require more work and training to maintain the mechanism and equipment that draws the water to the surface.

A well, deep with refreshing water. It is a prize, a reward for hard labor. A well of deep water refreshes and cleanses the grit of the pit that was dug. The dust is washed away, and the water is good to drink.

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