26 February 2009


This post is in response to A Thousand Word Thursday

"Wash Day"
(©1969, C.J. Peiffer)

"Water Gatherers"
(©1969, C.J. Peiffer)
        When I served in the Peace Corps in Brazil, I had no running water. We had to pay a neighbor boy to carry water from a dam outside of town. He strapped four large cans (each held about five gallons) to the sides of his donkey to carry water to us about once a week.
        There were water sources closer to town, but since those small ponds were used by many for washing clothes and watering animals, we paid him extra to bring us the cleaner water from the dam. 
        We also paid a woman to hand wash our clothes. (There was electricity only four hours each night ---and no one in town had a washing machine.)  We insisted she take our clothes to the dam outside of town, too. And we requested that EVERYTHING, including underwear, be ironed, mostly to kill germs. Irons for pressing clothes were really made from iron. They were heavy and held hot coals.
        In our kitchen, we had a large, four-foot high crock to store our water. First we put a clean dish towel over the hole in the top while our water boy poured the water in. That was to filter out insects, stones, weeds, frogs, or other small animals or debris.
        Water used for cooking or drinking had to be boiled for at least twenty minutes, then we put it into the top portion of a terra cotta water filter to drip slowly into the bottom  section. A spout allowed us to draw a glass of water when we needed it. The terra cotta also kept the water cool. 
        In restaurants, anywhere in Brazil, we always ordered bottled water. Even the large cities didn't have clean drinking water when I was there (40 years ago.)
        In a previous post, one can see an example of a water filter and read about how we bathed in our kitchen.

        About six months before I left Brazil, I rented a different house. Brunie (the other Volunteer) had returned home after her two years of service ended.*  None of the houses in town had running water, but my new house had a system to collect rain water and a cisterna to store it. I'm not sure how much water it could hold, but I will guess about 1000 gallons. Even in good years, ten degrees south of the Equator, anyone with a family was unlikely to collect enough water during  six rainy months to last through six dry months. The region was notorious for droughts which often meant there was no rain for a year or more at a time. Luckily, the two years I spent there, we had plenty of rain during the winter months, but almost none during the dry summers.
        My new house had a fairly sophisticated shower room. All I had to do during the rainy season was move one of the ceramic tiles on the roof so that rain water would fall into a metal container under the ceiling of the shower room.  I heated a pot of water on my stove (fueled by a propane gas tank) stood on a chair and poured the hot water into the tank to heat up the cool water already gathered there. I turned a small knob on the bottom of the water tank so water would fall from a spout onto my head. A drain in the floor took the waste water outside to a gutter cut into the concrete which directed the water to the end of the back yard.
        I asked my laundress to come to my yard to use the clean rain water from my cisterna. The photo at the top of this post shows her and her daughter washing my clothes. The break in the concrete at the bottom left of the photo shows where the water drained to the yard.
        By the time I moved into my new home, the town had full-time electricity. My previous home was not wired, but my new one was. However, since I had a gas stove, a kerosene refrigerator and lamps, I didn't have much need for it, but it was nice to have electric lights ---one bare bulb hanging from a wire from the ceiling in each room. I still used a kerosene lantern for reading.
        A Volunteer who had to leave early because of a family emergency loaned me his radio so I could listen to Voice of America. (He lived less than 100 miles from me at home, so I was able to easily return the radio later.) And finally, I could use the travel iron I had brought from home, but my laundress preferred her old iron which weighed about ten pounds.
        I do not take water for granted.  After living for two years where it was a lot of work to get a little water, I appreciate clean running water.
(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)

*Things could have been worse. Two years after returning home from Brazil, Brunie rejoined the Peace Corps and was assigned to Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso. During her service there was a widespread drought. Brunie was allotted a gallon of water a week for cooking, drinking and bathing.


  1. Your posts always inspire me.
    You inspire me :)
    Take good care and ......

    Steady On
    Reggie Girl

  2. oh my I have a new appreciation for water!

  3. Wow, what a great story! I can't even imagine not having water readily available!

  4. Caroline--do you know:www.peacecorpswriters.org

  5. There is so much we take for granted. Thanks for sharing!

  6. We have no idea here. I complain because a web page doesn't load up quickly enough. Sad. Must rethink priorities!!

  7. Great photos, incredible story. THanks for joining in ATWT!

  8. What an interesting blog you have. Beautiful pictures too.

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