“Out of all the chores I do, fetching water is the hardest”

FROM: Cristiana Pereira – 15. November 2021

Madina Muhuthage lives in a small village in Mozambique, where water does not yet flow from taps. Her life is characterized by non-existent opportunities, but also by trust. She shared a look at her life with Helvetas.

When I lay my head to sleep each night, this is the last thought that crosses my mind: “What will I feed my children tomorrow?”

I live in Hurucune, a small community in the district of Memba. I was born here, and so was my mother, my grandmother and my great-grandmother. We were all born here. I know when I wake up tomorrow my day will be exactly the same as it was for them: I will wake up around 4am, arrange a capulana (traditional cloth) around my waist, a scarf around my head, and then I will go next door to my parents’ house to start the day’s chores. My two sons will come along with me. Rafael is four years old and he’s a happy boy. He’s just learning to whistle and he makes everyone laugh. Egimilsone is a baby; he just turned one.

At my parents’ house, I will wash and dress them and give them papinha (porridge). Then I will sweep the courtyard and wash the dishes from last night’s dinner. I have no husband, that’s why I live right next to my parents. I wish I could have a big house like theirs. It’s beautiful! There is a grass fence. In the middle there is a shady courtyard, and in the corner you find the latrine. Our family knows how important oratta (hygiene) is for our health. Most people in our village have no bathroom; they just go outside.

After the morning chores, I will take a 20-liter bucket and walk to the well to fetch water. The water there isn’t good; it is dirty and causes diarrhea. The well is quite far and the buckets are hard to carry on our heads, but before it was worse. My mother and grandmother used to fetch water at a distant place. There were no plastic buckets, only clay containers or 10-liter tins, and it was very dangerous. There were leopards, hyenas and snakes on the way and sometimes people were attacked. Then one day, before I was born, a medicine man named Namurumia arrived and said there was water in Linhane, near Hurucune, so the people dug a well there.

That is where we still go today to get our water. Now it is my turn to help my mother just as she helped hers. Sometimes my siblings come along and we all carry buckets on our heads. It is quite hard to get the water, even though we are used to it. The well is a big hole in the ground and we have to sit on the side and scoop the water into our bucket with a plastic container tied to a pole. We go nearly every day. Normally, we bring 10 buckets of water to drink, cook, bathe and wash the laundry and dishes.

For farming, we use water from a small well near our horta (garden). There, we grow cassava, corn, peanut, tomato and eggplant. During the rainy season we have more produce, but in the dry months hardly anything grows. We dry the cassava on our thatched roofs and then we pound it in our pilão (large mortar and pestle) to make flour. This we call caracata and we eat it every day.

After fetching water, I prepare the fire and make the dough to bake bread and sell in the market. It’s a very small market near our house that sells plastic plates, chicken stock and a few vegetables. We sell small buns for 5 meticals (0.07 CHF) and large buns for 10 meticals (0.15 CHF). We also sell badjia (flour fritters). With the money we get, we buy soap, celeste (maize flour) and some clothes for the children. My mother says it is barely enough to get by. She says if she had more money, she would share half of it with other families from our community so we could all grow together.

My mother learnt how to make bread when she lived in Nacala-Porto. Nacala-Porto is a large city in our province. My brother Agi goes to school there; he’s in 10th grade. Whenever I have any money, I send it to him to help with his studies. People there have mobile phones and televisions. In our family only my father has a mobile phone. He is a fisherman down at the river.

When my mother came back from the big city, she built a woodstove made of mud in our courtyard and taught us how to bake as well. I love the smell of bread baking in the oven. Once it is ready, I start preparing lunch and then comes the best part of the day – the afternoon. This is when I have time to sit and rest, gossip with my sisters, my mother and aunts, or play banana (hide-and-seek) with my friends. Soon it will be time to bathe my boys and prepare dinner for our family. Then I will go to bed, close my eyes and once again worry about what I will feed my children when the morning comes.

When the cyclone came

When cyclone Kenneth came two years ago, the river burst and everything was flooded. The water rose so fast; we woke up with water up to our ankles. The wells were also destroyed and we didn’t have any fountains, so for three days we had no water to drink or cook.

Still, we are lucky we live on a plateau. People who lived in the lowlands, like my mpathani (friend) Elsa, were not so lucky. They lost everything. Not a single house was left. She had to move here with her three children and now they all live here. Many other families were also relocated to Hurucune. Every day new houses are being built.

That is why we are getting a sistema, new water system. Sometimes I take Rafael to show him the big tower from where the water will flow to the fountains. One of them will be very close to our house. Maybe we will even get a tap. We are happy because it will change our lives. Out of all the chores I do every day, fetching water is the hardest one for me – the buckets are heavy and it takes up so much time. I hope my children don’t suffer as much as me. With good water nearby, they will have fewer diseases. There will be more time for school and less need to go to the hospital.

Who knows, maybe we will even get electricity. Maybe even a school and a hospital. Can you imagine? And how I wish there was a bridge to connect us to Memba. Every time we need to go to hospital, we have to walk to the banks of the Mecuburi river and cross to the other side. In the dry season, when the tide is low, it’s easy to walk. But in the rainy season, the river rises and we always need to take the boat.

Both my boys were born in the rainy season. Rafael was born around lunchtime. I remember I was so scared because he was my first baby; I was trembling the whole time until I got to the hospital. It took us about an hour – first we had to walk, then take the boat, and then walk again up to the hospital. With Egimilsone it was different; I was more relaxed. He was in such a hurry to arrive that we didn’t make it in time. He was born in the boat just before the sun rose. Fortunately, my mother and the midwife came with me and they helped me.

If I was born in Europe

Did I tell you I am 21? I wonder how women my age in Europe live. I imagine they go to school and have jobs so they can look after their children. They probably work as teachers and nurses and live in masonry houses or buildings. If they don’t have a job, they have their own businesses and maybe also bake bread. When they’re not working, they go to the park and play with their children.

They have taps in their homes that are like a fountain and they use it together with their families. They wear beautiful clothes and eat foods that are good for them, like spaghetti, fruit, rice, carrots and nice things like milk. I wonder if they eat caracata (cassava flour) like me.

If I had been born in Europe, I’m sure I would have gone to school. I would have learnt Portuguese so I could communicate with the mucunhas (foreigners) who visit my village. I only speak Makwa, the language spoken in my province, Nampula. I actually went to school, but I had to stop in fourth grade, because my parents couldn’t pay for the school materials and uniform. I didn’t learn much; I only know how to sign my name. The school was far away and I had to walk a long distance. But I enjoyed it so much.

I used to dream of becoming a nurse or a midwife or a policewoman. Those dreams never died, they are still alive inside me. If I ever have a daughter, I will make sure she goes to school so she can make those dreams come true for her. She will have a job and help provide for me. And so will my boys.

My name is Madina and this is my story. Will you tell me yours?

© Ricardo Franco
Each day, Madina walks to this community well to fetch water.  © Ricardo Franco
Madina scoops the water into her bucket using a plastic container tied to a pole. She and her siblings fill ten 20-liter buckets. 

Mozambique in context: Poor in water despite abundant water resources

Mozambique has large water resources and is one of the largest producers of hydropower in southern Africa. The East African country has also made considerable progress in expanding its water supply in recent years. Nevertheless, more than half of the population lacks access to safe and affordable drinking water. In rural areas such as Hurucune, one-fifth of people use surface water as their primary source of drinking water.

Authorities also face the challenge of adapting existing water supplies to meet the needs of the growing population. This is because more and more people are moving from rural areas to small regional towns. In addition, cyclones and the violent conflict in the north of the country are forcing more and more people to flee.

With the Oratta project, Helvetas is supporting various districts in expanding their drinking water systems in accordance with the national water strategy. The project team works with authorities, water commissions and local companies to improve the water infrastructure or build new systems. The goal is to ensure a reliable supply of good-quality drinking water for the population. At the same time, the project raises awareness of hygiene measures and encourages the construction of latrines, thus contributing to better basic sanitation.