Tanzania: Water Scarcity Turns Tables Against Msagala Men

IT is around 10 am at Msagala Village in Mpwapwa District of Dodoma. Scores of men and boys are busy walking up and downstream while carrying water containers of different sizes and shapes.

Being inquisitive, I hurriedly walked along the road, with the view to confirm whether my eyes had deceived me or not. Upon meeting some of the men, my worries were confirmed: the containers they were carrying contained water.

So, in a bid to unravel the mysteries of this social anomaly, after asking for some directions, I hurriedly walked to the Village Head's office. And, I continued meeting men with the containers and what boggled my mind is that there wasn't any woman I came across along the 6.5km road stretch to the Village Head's office.

It was something unusual to see men carrying containers full of water ----because society has classified it as a role meant for women. 'But why men now?' is a question I kept asking myself till curiosity forced me to break my silence and ask one of the men who was carrying a container of water on his head, who was accompanied by others who were pushing bicycles. "Nowadays this is our role (referring to men) to fetch water for use at home," he said.

The man later on identified himself as Zamoyo Mfugale, and upon seeing that he was struggling to balance the container he was carrying, I did not continue questioning him as I feared that I was wasting his time.

So, I hurriedly headed to the Village Head's office not just to get what I had previously planned to get, but to get a clear clarification as to why men fetch water and not women.

Fifteen minutes later, I arrived at the Village Head's office, where he gave me the inside story of why men at the village undertake the role meant for women. And, I was left with many questions when I heard that the main reason was to save their marriages.

"For the past twenty years, our village never had enough clean water ---women have been struggling all the time searching for the precious liquid for use at home," says Mr Dickson Mhandoni, the Village Executive Officer.

Mr Mhandoni said that in search of water, women could go and come back home late, walking as far as 5.6 kilometers in search of the precious liquid, a situation that prompted quarrels from their partners and even leading to marriage break ups.

"Before the men took over the role of searching for water, I used to solve a lot cases from the women and men in the community, men complaining over women coming home late in the name of searching for water," he said.

According to Mr Mhandoni, the village with over 1,060 dwellers had only three shallow wells located in one place, where the whole village gets water for various uses.

The water generated from the three wells was not enough for all the dwellers and women could go in the morning and sometimes during the day had to queue to get the water.

In that manner, the majority of women were forced to stay for long periods waiting for their turn, and thereafter reporting home late.

"Off course there are silly men who took advantage of going after some of their colleagues' wives, enticing them into extramarital affairs.

But, some of the men were just suspicious of their women coming home late just because of water," he said and adding, "but the reality as to why the majority of women reported back home later was because of water scarcity in the village.

Mr Mhandoni said that the cases of fights between different couples continued in the village with some marriages breaking up.

"I used to get three to five cases between wives and husbands per day. They were all about wives reporting home late. I had four cases where wives and husbands had to separate because of quarrels over such delays," he said.

The situation also prompted quarrels among men, where some of them accused others of having love affairs with their wives.

"Some men who quarreled about their wives reporting home late from the wells, believed that their wives engaged in love affairs with other men," he said.

'A stich in time save nine' --- to solve the matter, the village community head decided to shift the role of fetching water from men to women in order to save the marriages.

"Before we came to that conclusion, some of the men (husbands) had already made up their minds and decided to go and fetch water instead of their wives --- all was to save their marriages," he said.

Some of the men, who took their cases to the village authority, were counseled and advised to help their wives in search of water.

"Some of them heeded the advice and took over the role- --indeed, that is when majority of men in the village decided to follow suit --- taking over the role as women remained behind doing other activities," says Mr Mhandoni.

A visit to the three wells ---about three kilometers from the office of the village head- -- confirmed that it was indeed men and boys fetching water.

In an interview, the men bitterly complained over government's failure to provide the village with clean and safe water for many years. One Abraham Masawe, a villager at Msagala said the matter of men taking up the role of women came not just because men wanted.

"It is not our wish to be here, it's all because of government's failure to give us all the essential services... one of them being water... we have had no clean and safe water in our village," he said bitterly.

Echoing the Village Head's view, Mr Masawe sited his wife as one of the people who was badly affected by water problems and she used to report home late.

"My wife used to come home very late; she would wake up very early in the morning ---in the name of going to fetch water but she reports back in the afternoon or in the evening with just one bucket of water," he said, adding, "I did not want to believe that she could spend half a day in search of water."

But Masawe never wanted to accuse his wife, "I launched an investigation---going behind her immediately she leaves home in the morning, I would hide at a place and see whether she spends all the time queuing for water at the borehole or not," he said.

However after a while, Mr Masawe realized that his wife reported home late from the borehole because of water scarcity. "But, I never wanted her to continue coming home late, I would escort her for some time and hangover while waiting for her turn but that was not easy for me because I had to attend to other duties," he said.

Later on, Mr Masawe took over the role of fetching water after he heard that some cheeky men in the village were having love affair with people's wives "I did not wait to hear that my wife had an affair with another man, but I pulled her just to keep her safe from the suspected bad men," he said.

Yusuf Machale, another man from the village said lack of water in the village had provoked other family problems including marriage breakups.

"Apart from quarrels between the wife and husband, we also encountered delays or abandoning of other core businesses mainly performed by women," he said, adding that some of the women had left their economic generating activities, others abandoning the children --- who had to go a day without food because their mothers were out all the day fetching water.

On the other hand, families with no fathers (breadwinners) are using or forcing their boys to fetch water in order to save their mothers from the cheeky men in the community.

The 'Daily News spotted several boys as young as 13 years grappling to get water at the village wells.---Mika Berege (14 ) is among the boys who expressed bitterness over the situation of men fetching water.

"I used to go to school sometimes back but I dropped to help my mother fetch water and perform other chores --- I sometimes remained home looking after my young siblings as my mother went for water," he said.

But now, the main core activity for the young boy is just to ensure the water is available at home. Rihana Philip, a woman at the village confirmed the matter, and strongly defended the move of men fetching water as the best to keep marriages safe.

"We used to hear a lot of stories about women having affairs with other men... especially as we went to fetch water, some of the women were beaten and chased away by their husbands because of coming home late," she says.

And, as I walked out of the village to where my means of transport was, I could not help it but to wonder whether this kind gesture could be extended to other household chores, to promote male involvement.

I also wondered whether other villages across the country could borrow a leaf or two from Msagala to cement marriages.

The Msagala experience continued to boggle my mind all the way back to Dar es Salaam and I ended up wondering as to whether the men will continue with their role in case the government avails adequate water to the area. Only time will tell.

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