April 6 – At The Well

by Khadijah

Water is truly a lovely word. Within its two syllables one can hear the gurgling of a mountain stream as it tumbles over rocks sculpted by the water flowing over them, around them, turning each into a work of art. Water. It sounds as smooth and lovely as it feels sliding down your throat on a hot summer’s day.

Yemen is partially surrounded by water, the Red Sea and its Arabian cousin holding hands around its southernmost tip. Yet the water crisis here is greater than any other country in the world. Due to years of drought, a total lack of responsible management, and a continually increasing population, some areas of Yemen will run out of water in the next decade.

I lived for three years in a village in which most people had no access to running water. Those of us who did have pipes coming into the house received water for an hour every day, or every other day. When the water came on, we rushed to fill every container we could- tubs for washing clothes, pots for cooking, buckets for flushing the toilet. The water seemed clean, but after filtering it there would be a quarter-inch of sediment left- not to mention even more dangerous elements, leading to typhoid and similar infections. Still, when we heard the water come gushing out of the faucet into the waiting bucket, we rejoiced.

I first gathered water in the first small mountain village we lived in. We often had to get water from the well underneath the building we shared with three families; two Yemeni, one Sudani.

First came the slamming of doors and the pounding of children’s bare feet. This was the signal for the women to come out and the men to stay inside. A bright swish of dresses, slim ankles peeping out from under baggy, embroidered pants, and the women descended upon the well. Two elderly women sat against the wall, their wrinkled faces radiant, while the younger housewives removed the cover and lowered the buckets into the water. At that time my Arabic was limited, but I did my best to follow the conversation, which centered around home and family- sometimes laughter and lightheartedness prevailed, sometimes sadness and commiseration. Brown eyes flashed from under black lashes as they watched me stand shyly to the side, waiting my turn. Much of the conversation centered around me, the only American woman they had ever seen, but even when they tugged at my dress or laughed at my broken Arabic, I knew that they meant no harm. Whenever I stepped up to take my turn, one of the others would take my bucket to fill, using this as an opportunity to fire questions at me. “Are there Muslims in America?” “Aren’t Americans brown? Why aren’t you brown?” and my all-time favorite, “Do you know Oprah?” After half an hour, there would be a loud knock from one of the doors, a sign that the husbands were getting restless. We drew our veils over our faces, hoisted buckets to shoulders and heads, and withdrew, leaving the spirit of our sisterhood and the echo of our laughter until we met again, to share and draw water.

Khadijah grew up in the Kickapoo Valley in Wisconsin and now lives in Yemin with her husband and eight children where she teaches Arabic and Islaamic studies to women and helps them recognize their importance and the need for their stories to be heard. Khadijah was the winner of the 2010 Story Circle Network Lifewriting Competition.


6 responses to “April 6 – At The Well

  1. Khadijah, I love reading your Yemini tales–but this one is special. It reminds me of what a hugely important resource water is, and how a spirit of community and sisterhood can be fed by a communal well. Thank you.

  2. Water from the well is such a timeless topic. I think of Rebecca meeting Abraham’s servant by the well, Moses striking water from rocks, the Samaritan woman giving Jesus a drink from the well. I think of southwestern pueblos, which look much like the picture of Yemeni adobe houses. Water seems to have been women’s work, a center of sisterhood as well as toil. Thanks for provoking thoughts.

  3. I have been lazy about making comments to this blog. But, Khadijah you really got my attention here. There are so many things I take for granted and this puts it all in perspective. Thank you for sharing your stories.

  4. Thurayah Stoehr

    Khadijah, Just when I think you can’t surprise me with ant more amazing quailites…there you go again. This time it is on so many different levels: the memeory of your e-mails back at this time that never once complained or even hinted at the scarcity of water, the beautiful spirit which you have allowed all new experiences to make shine even brighter and then this writing, which I think is now my favorite.

  5. Although we can embrace our humanity no matter where we are there are certain experiences that are uniquely rich to those who live abroad, especially in countries of the ” third world”. It seems to me at times that the more we get back to basics the more we become enriched. When we take away some of the material comforts we simultaneously add to our own awareness and depth.I love reading about your experiences and cannot wait to see what is next.

  6. Joan M. Singleton

    Thank you Khadijah for reminding us the value of water. It seems to be all around us and ever plentiful, so much so, that we forget that not everyone has the privileges that we do. Thank you for your insightful writing about your own experiences with water and those of others in lands that do not have the facilities we do. We have much to learn from others and from those who are living in other areas of he world. We are learning alot about Yemen thanks to your writing talent and forthrightness and honesty. Thank you again for enlightening us. We look forward to more of your words of wisdom.

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