Saturday, May 01, 2004

Digging a Well

I had a well-digging crew arrive this morning about 8 am. It was actually about 9 am because the clocks were supposed to be set an hour ahead this weekend but I didn’t know that. Since I don’t have a television, don’t listen to radio, and still don’t have a phone at home so that I can connect to the net whenever I want, I’m at the mercy of people who let me know things, but somehow this doesn’t bother me much. So when my friend Kati called me to apologise for being an hour late coming over, I was pretty much clueless but I did find out about the time change.

Anyway, long before the phone call I heard a pickup truck pull up outside the fence near the back of my garden and an immense clattering and clanging commenced. Sounded a bit like someone bowling with trash cans…but louder…and naturally all the dogs went nuts barking at the racket. I’d been told that people would come to dig me a new well after the long weekend but I guess that they decided to come early. A group of us decided to test our wells a month or so ago, and mine came up wonderfully contaminated with nitrates, nitrites, and phosphates. These are runoff from fertilizers and while they are fine for plants, they aren’t so great for humans. What all this indicated was the fact that the well hadn’t been dug deep enough to get the water under the rock layer that would be protecting from the seepage from the fields. My landlords, surprise! were not terribly concerned about the water situation, and my son was, so drilling a new well was the answer. Meanwhile I’ve been cooking with and drinking bottled water.

So, once I dragged myself out of bed to see what the commotion was about, I found that there was a fairly enormous pile of metal pipes by the corner of the garden and a crew of rather disreputable men sitting around smoking cigarettes in the morning sun. Okay. Whatever. An hour later Haj Shaban, the local contractor who has been working on my house, showed up and there was a long discussion about where to place the well (outside the garden fence so that the dogs wouldn’t drive the diggers crazy) and how it would be connected when it was finished. Then the crew set to work. A tripod of long poles was set up with a pulley from which pipes were suspended. The pipes are raised and lowered by one man cranking a large wheel that either collects or lets go of steel cable. Periodically, a different pipe is used that collects the sand and dirt that has been dissolved in the water in the well. The water table here is only about a few meters under the surface, but you wouldn’t want to drink it. This process will continue for the next few days until they get through the rock layer to the clean water. This is the standard way of digging wells in the countryside in Egypt and probably in many other parts of the world.

I watched the men work all day at this job as I worked in my garden, tidying plants, tying up vines, cleaning up after dogs, feeding parrots and chickens, and watering. The well diggers were mystified by the sight of someone who in their opinion should have a gardener or housekeeper or someone doing these chores. I was amazed at the sheer amount of effort that they had to put into their work. Children would wander by from time to time and sit around watching the work, but the crew pounded away at the earth from about 9 am to dusk. Once the sun went down, the crew went home and will probably appear tomorrow or the next day. Once they finish the well, it will have to work for about 10 days before it can be tested. The test results of wells that the same man has dug in the area lead me to believe that I should have good, if hard, water soon. The water will be all the more precious for my understanding of the effort that it took to reach it.