29-05-2021 by Freddie del Curatolo
When I arrived in Malindi, more than thirty years ago, water, like so many other goods that were taken for granted in Italy, was a luxury.
Mineral water did not exist, there were no companies on the coast that produced it and only the super-wealthy could afford San Pellegrino or Perrier, strictly in glass.
In the hotels there were those who had purifiers and those who pretended to, but usually to avoid epic dysentery they would fall back on 'soda water', which apart from being fizzy was not clear what kind of water it was made with.
On the other hand, even when you drank beer or cocacola you didn't know what to expect.
In the first years of my stay in Kenya, after uncorking the bottle, I happened to find cigarette butts, earthworms and dead flies in it.
For coffee and tea, tap water was used, boiled thoroughly.
In private homes, boiling water was used not only for brushing teeth, but also for drinking water, which was put in the fridge once it had cooled.
Perhaps lime juice or tea leaves were added to remove the background taste and make it slightly more thirst-quenching. Luckily for the thirsty, and unlucky for the liver, the tusker cost very little, 5 to 10 shillings.
In 1990, a company in Mombasa began to produce a decent and inexpensive purified water in the laboratory, while in Nairobi the first spring minerals could be seen costing as much as five beers per litre.
On the other hand, running water was sometimes lacking for weeks at a time, and those who, like my father and I, ran a restaurant, had to take the car (and it was always necessary to have a pick-up truck, or in any case a vehicle with a large container for transport) and go inland, where there were public wells, scattered all over the bush, the forest that was then really forest. Especially in the evenings, they were not easy to find but could be recognised by the queues of locals, almost always women, carrying their 20-litre jerrycans on their heads. The only way to get out of the queue (at least, my way) was to bring supplies or directly shillings to skip the line. There was no compulsion, of course. Some people preferred access to the water and that was understandable. Some even asked to be accompanied to the village.
For a young man of just over twenty, used to having, if not ready-made food in Italy, at least Ferrarelle and Levissima always in the fridge, the approach to the importance of water was one of the first great lessons of this continent.
Seeing myself, myself first, after a few decades comparing dozens of brands of mineral water, assessing the quality-price ratio and the incidence of sodium in their composition, makes me smile but at the same time makes me often go back to where there used to be a queue to get the first water you could at the public well. And if I still find the queue, I am likely to bring comfort goods or accompany some old woman to the village, without needing either water or jumping the queue.
The long-standing problem of the occasional lack of water in the pipes has not yet been resolved.
And it is always in the low season that it creates problems for the population of Kilifi County and the tourism sector.
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