We drive through the deserted streets of Bethel, Nicaragua. They are potholed and rutted and they appear to serve more to delineate the rows of houses than to accommodate actual wheeled traffic. We drive to the far end of the community where a barb wire fence separates the last row of homes from the sugar cane field on the other side. So this is where the people are. This is where the children are laughing, where the men are shaking hands, and where the women are gathered umbrellas in hand – protection from the sun; they have not seen rain here in months.
A network of blue and white pipes, decorated today with brightly colored balloons in honor of the official water well inauguration, emerge from the ground, and from one end deliver a flow of water never before seen in Bethel. The laughs are coming from the children delighting in not its thirst-quenching, life-giving properties, but instead in the simple pleasure of standing beneath it. Letting it wash over their faces. Letting the coolness provide reprieve from the heat. Letting it be okay to be a kid.
Marita stands with her family, and as I approach I am greeted by her bright smile. She takes my arm and pulls me under the shade of her umbrella and we exchange pleasantries. She is warm and inviting, and I already know that I want to spend more time with her. She invites me to her home, or maybe I invite myself. Either way, we head down the street. We gather others along the way. Julia, a woman who reminds me of my own grandmother decked out in a Hollister T-shirt, takes me by the hand. We arrive at Marita’s home, and I let up pressure, the way you do when you want to give the other hand holder an opportunity to let go, but Julia does not.
Marita shows us ‘the hole.’ She points to the white plastic pipe about three feet down in the bottom of the hole. She turns the red valve to the left and water flows out the pipe and into the bucket she has propped just below it. And then it stops. Water from an upstream community’s well is diverted to Bethel for two hours, once every two days. Usually. If not for Bethel’s new well, the water that had settled in the pipe from the day before is the only water that would have flowed to Marita’s house today. She would not have gone without, though. Yesterday, when the water flowed—more of a trickle really—into her bucket, she spent an hour climbing in and out of the hole to fill the blue barrel from which she would have rationed water today. And perhaps even tomorrow.
But thanks to the new water well in the heart of the community, tomorrow there will be water. And the next day. And the next! A water well in Bethel means independence for Marita and Julia and the Bethel community. It means a reliable water source. It means water to grow vegetables. It means water for filling bottles to take to work in the sugar cane fields. It means water for children at school. It means opportunity.
It seems to me, that it means quite a lot.