Under the Blazing Sun, Women Walk for Water (story and gallery)

Turkana women walk long distances to gather water from the surrounding rivers. (Jessica Stallone)

Turkana women walk long distances to gather water from the surrounding rivers. (Jessica Stallone)

By Chelsea Katz

TURKANA, Kenya—This is no walk in the park. This is a barefoot trek that takes hours.

Balancing a 20-liter, yellow container on top of her head, a Turkana woman walks slowly across the desert plain to the Turkwel River.

At the river’s edge, she kneels to fill the jug. Then she stands and puts the full jug atop her head. After a pause, she begins a return journey that may take hours.

Women like this one are the water-gatherers of Turkana.

The Turkana use water for drinking, cooking, bathing and washing — the same as everybody. However, they are not getting their water from a faucet. Their water is unfiltered, whether from a river or a well. Fetching water is a daily task.

“They have to walk long distances, sometimes 10 to 15 kilometers [6.21 to 9.32 miles] to fetch water,” said Daniel Mwebi, a project manager at World Vision, a Christian nongovernmental organization based in Nairobi. “If they do not get water, then they migrate to the areas where there is water.”

Nangorkit

Nangorkit lives in Kerio, a village of approximately 3,000 people, near a dry riverbed. With light-blue fabric wrapped around her torso and her yellow-and-black skirt reflecting the light of the blazing sun, she came down, 10 times a day, to the four holes she had dug on the bank of the shallow Kerio River. Then she sells the water. She charges 10 shillings (12 cents in U.S. currency) a barrel. Her cylindrical container, nestled in a scarf atop her head, holds 20 liters, or 5.28 gallons.

“I never take a break,” Nangorkit said. “I do get tired, but I have to survive.”

The silted riverbed is Kerio’s sole water source. The Kerio River flows for only nine months of the year. Nangorkit said she collects water from her own four holes — essentially tiny wells — because people bathe in the current.

Lochuka and Liwan Paulina

Lochuka, from the lakeside village of Eliye Springs, collected water from pipes that run from a spring below a steep, sandy mountain. At the base of the mountain, water ran continuously, forming a pool behind a wall.

Lochuka filled her vessel with water from pipes that took the pool’s overflow and spilled onto a paved area. Balancing the barrel atop a wrap on her sweaty head, she walked back up the hill, barefoot, with her hands behind her neck. The walk from the pipes back to her homestead took approximately 10 minutes.

While Lochuka and Liwan Paulina, another wife from the same homestead, collected water, other women and their children bathed beneath the pipes. Lochuka’s and Liwan’s children played in Lake Turkana, a short walk away. The lake water is too salty to drink.

“Other people that come from far [-away homesteads and villages] feel bad,” Liwan said, because they have to travel so far for water. When she is not fetching water, Liwan sells homemade goods to tourists at the nearby resort.

Elizabeth Emutono

Elizabeth Emutono, from an area of Eliye Springs a few miles from the lake, fetches water from a well sponsored by World Vision. Before the well was constructed in 1985, Emutono walked to the same spring as Lochuka.

“When you leave here at 7, you’ll be there by 11,” Emutono said, recalling the days before World Vision built the well. “Because the water has been brought here, the long distance has been cut off.”

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