A parable about water

THERE WAS A SPRING

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– A parable about water –

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There was a spring 500 yards away from the house I lived in; and a pipe was running through the 30 acre mission compound. Water was stored in a tank near the house on a 10 feet high platform for pressure. The terrain was full of mimosa and acacia trees; and a mud brick house stood in their midst. I lived there, in a village called Cana via Tyatyaneng, in the mountains of Lesotho; 7 km away from a town, for six months. I had no car. I was placed there to learn the language. I had a Sesotho language text book, and Sesotho speaking people who lived around me. This is my story; but it could easily be a parable about land and water in Canada.

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Water was abundant, clean, and cold. Ernest Bacquet, the first missionary from France, thought it was a gift from a grateful nation. Water came with the land from the king of Basotho, King Moshoeshoe I. He didn’t realize that no king of Basotho gave away land, because it was not his to give. Land belonged the creator, and people were the tenants. As far as the king was concerned, Monsieur Bacquet was subletting the land from him. No one owned land nor water in Lesotho. It belonged to God and people rent it and took care of it.

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But for Monsieur Bacquet, now la Societe Missionaire Evangeliques de Paris owned the land and water. In order to protect precious water from animals and other people, he built a concrete box – a cistern, around the spring and the fence around the compound. That was about two hundred years ago.

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A few weeks after I got there, a villager came to the door to tell me that there was a problem. Water stopped running at the community water tap. I had no idea I was expected to look after the whole water system. From then on, I repaired the gaps on the cistern to stop animal droppings getting in there, unplugged the pipe of a dead snake, or dug the whole five hundred yards to find the airlock. It was made quite clear to me that it was my job to fix whatever the problem. I didn’t mind, really. I learned later that another missionary installed a water tap in the village, so the women didn’t have to walk miles for water. I guess he thought he was being charitable; so did I – being charitable. Every morning there was a long line of women and girls waiting for their turn to fill up their jelly cans. I realized now that as far as the villagers were concerned, water didn’t belong to the mission; it was for everybody. Foreign missionaries like me were the custodians and the stewards. It was my job.

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There was severe drought that year. Rivers stopped running and many wells ran dry. So there was a longer line by the village tap everyday, and often the tank was empty by mid-afternoon. So we did everything we had to do with water earlier and earlier in the morning.

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One day, a tanker truck appeared. It sucked water out of the whole tank, leaving the villagers waiting until evening for the tank to fill up again. The truck came next day, and the next. Finally, I went to the driver and told him to go away. That evening, the manager of the South African trading post chain "Fraser’s" came to our door. He told me that their well was also dry and the store needed water to wash the animals and produce. He said that the store had as much right to the water as the villagers. I was angry. I said that I would stop the water at the source if the tanker truck appeared again.

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Next day, ‘Ntate Tente, my friend and teacher, came to tell me that I had to allow the Fraser’s to share water. The Fraser’s trading post was the only place where people could sell their livestock and produce. He suggested that I negotiated different times for villagers and the South African traders.

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Happily, I didn’t have to do anything, because by chance, the rains came back. But what if it didn’t, what could I have done?

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I hear that today there is a multi-billion dollar project in progress to dam up Lesotho’s only river, to supply water to South Africa.

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