Shifting Sands in Rajasthan, India

words + photos by Barbara Aman

We arrived late at night at the field office of the nonprofit, a crumbling cement structure with a few rooms and a few rusted bed frames with torn, flattened pads. I was here to document the progress of a multinational water-supply project in this drought-challenged desert region in India’s western Rajasthan state. No luxury hotel here.

Up before sunrise the next morning we first visited water catchment areas, where large areas were dug out a few feet down, the women wielding picks, the red dirt transported away with beat-up metal bowls by all available family members--typically grandparents and grandkids, who often worked together. The elder male stood at a distance, dressed in white--as if a maharajah from the past, leaning against his wooden cane--while the women, dressed in brightly patterned red saris, toiled behind him.

It’s the women and girls who are most affected by the water shortage here. Many in the villages spend up to five hours a day walking to and from the closest well or storage tank, carrying water in their beat-up metal pitchers. Water for drinking, cooking, washing--it falls to them to fetch it, however far away it may be. Male/female roles are strictly cast here: Whatever it takes to keep the home and family running, it’s up to the females to get it done.  At one point, Michael, my partner, had teasingly picked up one of the full water containers and placed it in my arms, and my legs almost crumpled. I could not imagine how these tiny women could carry these on their heads.

The next stop was a completed water catchment and storage area and as we drove up I could see the bright white paint job on the 12-foot round tank, jutting up about 2 feet from the ground, the lower half nestled tidily in the hard clay soil. A young woman stood atop it, quite shyly, covering her face with her tattered sheer sari while balancing her metal water jug adeptly atop her head. Her eyes seemed to bore through me, even in their shy state.

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Break a Taboo, Save the Water

by Jules Older


Here's a fact: this summer, we’re gonna run short of water.

And here's a probability: water shortages will only get worse.

You don’t need a Ph.D. or a crystal ball to know that. Or to know the standard advice on what you can do about it.

Fix leaky faucets. Check.

Put a brick in your toilet tank. Check.

Buy a low-volume toilet. Check.

Stop watering the lawn. Check.

Tear up the lawn, and plant cactus. Check. 

All that’s well and good, but there are other solutions that somehow don’t get talked about. Sometimes it’s because they go against long-ingrained habits, sometimes because they break long-standing taboos. Yet they offer a far cheaper solution than low-volume toilets. They're free.

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by Judy Crawford

It may have started in 3rd grade—this need for transformation. Unlike most kids who would say, if asked, that their favorite holiday was Christmas,  mine was Halloween. Whether dressing as a ghost, a witch, a gypsy, or a bum the idea of becoming someone else for even a short time held and continues to hold a fascination for me. Junior High brought other attempts to change - experimenting with make-up, trying to adopt an exotic accent, changing my name from Judy to Judi. High school was a time to learn more about who I was, but mostly to try not to stand out from the crowd. Then, at university all hell broke loose. It was the early 70’s at a very liberal university in Colorado. My liberation that year consisted of wearing jeans to class, letting my hair grow long and straight, shedding my make-up, and trying on radical, new ideas.  But then as I got older, I lost my edge.  I became a woman who is personable, somewhat outgoing, active in my church and community, but most often enjoys just staying at home, reading or doing art projects. I suppose this places me in the “Boring, but nice” demographic. 

I didn’t even think about transformation as I packed my bags for my trip to Kenya. I work for a non-profit, Waterlines, located in Santa Fe, New Mexico, that funds clean drinking water projects in developing countries. One of the great benefits of this work has been the opportunity to visit projects that our donors have sponsored. The two week period was spent in rural areas of Kenya, four hours from Nairobi. Most of the projects we visited were schools where Waterlines, in partnership with the local communities, has funded  rain collection tanks. These large tanks (33,000- 50,000 liters) are filled with rain water collected through gutters from the roof of a classroom during one of the two rainy seasons Kenya has each year.  Without these tanks, children are required to bring water from home or spend class time going to a river several kilometers away to haul back polluted water for drinking and cooking. Obviously neither is a good solution to the drinking water problem. For me, a former public school teacher, visiting schools is a holiday!  It is both inspiring to see how much teachers do with so little in resources, and sad to see how the students struggle to pay fees for secondary school and learn without adequate books, lab equipment, or even pencils and paper.

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