“Dad?” little Isaac says. A pair of ducks float lazily on the surface of the urban lake behind him. He embraces a half gallon jug of murky water, much of which has splashed onto his chest, soaking the front of his shirt, as he’s wrangled it for half a mile now.
“Yeah buddy?” I respond with a grunt, transferring my own forty pound aquatic burden from left hand to right.
“Why don’t they just go get bottles of water, instead of carrying it all this way?” he asks.
Hearing this, I nearly hear it click inside of me – the fleshy, internal gears of my heart, striking home. “Here we are,” I think. “It’s a holy moment. A wake up moment.”
“Well,” I respond, “in Ethiopia, they don’t have stores where they can just go and buy bottles of water.” We’ve stopped walking now, which is good for me. The neuroma in my left foot is screaming, and my hands are threatening to seize into claws from the weight of the five gallon jug they’ve been taking turns with. “And even if there were stores,” I continue, “most people don’t have cars to drive to them.”
“Oh,” he says. He stands, peering up at me – the foreground to a mental portrait I know will haunt me all my days – the swampy lake with its ducks and turtles and lily pads, odor of algae, sacrificial star piercing crystal blue, and my boy, weary and wet. Strong.
“You want to pour some of the water from your container? Make it lighter?” I ask.
“No,” he says, “It’s s’posed to be hard.” Reaffirming his grip on the milk carton, he continues down the path.
Why are we doing this? Why have we gathered at this lake in the center of Tacoma to trudge around, carrying jugs of water? Is it to punish ourselves for the privilege we enjoy in this country? Is it penance for the fact that many Ethiopians hike several miles each day to retrieve a fraction of the water we use just to keep our lawns green? No, it’s not about that. Not even close. And it’s about much more than the money we’re raising to help increase access to those precious gallons of clean water. I know this now, because I’ve taken part in the experience.
This whole thing – the tedious preparation, the rising early on a Saturday, the gathering, the walking, the carting of water – it is a prayer. It is a prayer which says, “We see you. We are here, and you are way over there, but we see you just the same. We are human as you are human, children as you are children.”
The weight of the five gallons I strain to bear a couple miles is roughly half of that which is carried over twice such a distance by many twelve-year-old girls in Ethiopia. I might imagine doing this once, perhaps even a few times. But it’s not like that for them. It is daily. Perpetual. Never ending.
I find myself thinking that some of the greatest minds in human history have never been heard. This moment, somewhere in Ethiopia, there is a poetess with the power to enchant the soul by the crafting of words. She’s developed this power over days and months of solitude along a dirt path, one which bears the pattern of her own footprints – half of them this way, half the other – and this path, the land, the family she sacrifices herself to serve – these have granted her the rare gift of true inspiration. She would move the human heart with such inspiration, were she given the opportunity. But she never will, since she’s never learned to translate her power into writing. She been too busy, carrying water.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to combat poverty in Africa, you don’t have to look far. There are some amazing, inspired people who’ve devoted their lives to this endeavor. I happen to know a few of them.
Check them out at Starfishfundraising