Last weekend, we had a guest to stay. A new VSO volunteer has arrived to start a placement. He’ll be based a couple of hours north of Tamale but stayed with us for three days to meet some of the VSO team and have an induction at our office.
The first time we’ve had any visitors to our home here, we unfortunately failed at a few rudimentary elements of hospitality.
A water supply is a pretty essential part of a comfortable stay. But on the Sunday morning of his arrival we woke up to find we had none.
In Ghana, water supply is erratic or in some places non-existent. Many rural communities don’t have easy access to clean water, and those that do have to fetch and carry water from a community borehole.
In Tamale, we are lucky to have running water in our house but we typically only have a supply from the mains for a short part of the day, if at all – often overnight and first thing in the morning. With no communal boreholes in this part of the city, the solution is to have a big poly-tank in our garden. The tank fills when the mains are on and serves as a back-up supply to the house when they aren’t. So far this system had kept us going.
The problem is that our tank is broken – it overflows when full and attempts made to fix it haven’t worked yet. We’ve been having to make a choice: keep the tank on overnight to (hopefully) fill, get woken up at around 3 or 4am to the sound of a waterfall and have to get up and go outside to turn it off; or leave it turned off most of the time, get our sleep, but have to guess when it’s running low and hope there’s a water supply then.
We spent the last few weeks opting for the latter, only turning the tank’s tap on occasionally. Unfortunately we guessed wrong. The tank emptied the morning our guest arrived, leaving us without working showers, sinks or toilets. The mains water didn’t come back on until the morning our guest left, over 3 days later.
An offer of a drink
The supply of water isn’t the only problem. What we do get is also not that clean. In particular, the water that’s been sitting in the poly-tank for days being heated up by the sun is a breeding ground for bugs.
To prepare our drinking water, we boil, cool and then filter the water from the tap. In the current heat (most days, it’s 37-39 degrees here), this means leaving the boiled water to sit for at least 10 hours before it even gets close to room temperature, ready for filtering. Preparing a cool drink requires some forethought!
On the Sunday morning, we had enough drinking water to keep us going for a while, having planned for an extra guest. We could at least offer him a cold drink when he arrived. But with no new water to boil, we ran low pretty quickly.
We begged some jerry cans of water from a colleague who kindly kept us going with just about enough to be able to have a wash and flush the toilets occasionally. We bought lots of bottled water to drink and cook with. And at least the power cuts during his stay were only a few hours long! We might not have had much else, but we could keep the fans on to cool us down most of the time.
We have heard that power and water supplies are much better than normal right now. A few sceptics have told us that services are more reliable in the run up to an election, but predict a sharp decline as soon as the polling day is over. No mains water at all for weeks – meaning a regularly empty poly-tank – could be the reality from December onwards. Whether we have more guests to stay or not, I’m not sure I’m ready for that!