Water-pump is an English word that every person in Afghanistan recognizes without even knowing it is English. I remember the day I first heard it. Of course, they say it wat-ar-pump. That took me awhile to figure out.
My family of six stayed at my great-uncle’s house with its two large rooms, a kitchen, and a storage room as well a garden, once filled with grapes and apple and pomegranate trees. Due to the lack of rain, only two orchards had survived. The grapes were saved to take to the market, not for the family to enjoy. Before the seven-year drought, the pomegranates were the size of grapefruits. Now they were plum size.
My little cousin, Malika, ran in through the open gates yelling, “Wat-ar-pump!” My older cousins seized buckets and the little ones grabbed tea kettles and dashed out the wooden gates. My aunts opened the tops of water barrels. It was only my third day in Afghanistan, so I was clueless.
Then in came dozens of kids with containers of water. Once they emptied them into the large water barrels, they darted out like hummingbirds from one flower to another to fetch more. I was impressed by their energy. After all, it was only 7 a.m. The first rays of the sun were beginning to hug the arid, vulnerable earth. I slipped on my shoes and walked outside to see what was happening.
I did not see anything different, only a large tree with white, dried berries. I went back inside and asked one of my cousins to take me to the water, wondering why there was such excitement since I had plenty of water to drink. She led me to a small stream that was surrounded by my cousins, neighbors and even some people from distant villages.
The stream ran through my uncle’s property. Only a foot wide, it flowed behind the house and into neighboring grape gardens. The land seemed dry as a rock. It was difficult to imagine that once it was covered with enough vegetables to provide the whole village with cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, turnips and lettuce.
My cousins explained that they were rushing toward the stream because in three hours the water would be turned off. Stopping a stream, is that possible? With diesel water pumps, it is. During my visit I had never seen the water-pumps. They constantly seemed to be behind walls, yet the murky, perilous smoke was visible against the sapphire sky. That three-hour visit made people joyous. They knew to appreciate it, since their wells had completely dried up.
I reflect on my visit every time I see water running into a sink, every time I hear the hiss of the sprinklers at night, every time my dad sprays his car with enough water to enliven a country. As the Afghan proverb claims, “A little water is a sea to an ant.”
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.