My time in the tiny village of Sangako makes me appreciate how lucky I am to have fresh water all the time. Even in Dakar it can be slightly more challenging, since the tap water is not potable, and we often buy bottles of water or fill up bottles at school, where the tap is filtered. But I have never been as dehydrated as I am in Sangako, rural Sangako, on the banks of a muddy, salty river, just a handful of thatched huts under a blazing sky and in the shadow of strange, sparse baobab and nebeday trees.
We arrive on one of the most unusual days of weather. It is over a hundred degrees and in the middle of a dust storm, a raging dust storm, with huge gusts of hot wind sweeping the cracked, dry earth. Sand swirls in the air, so thick and brown and orange that I cannot see a hundred meters in front of me, that my skin is dark and blackened by the dirt and the sweat. Against the gnarled trees, the barren landscape, it looks like something out of a dystopian novel, like we have stumbled onto a science fiction planet or into an apocalyptic wasteland.
I am staying here in Sangako for the next two nights, along with my classmates Will and Madeleine, and all we can think is: We need water. Our bottles are empty, and we most certainly cannot drink the water in the village or from the river.
Half insane from dehydration, we stagger down the road to Sangako’s one boutik, a lone, slanting building. When we motion to buy water, the storeowner hands us a single 1.5 liter bottle. When we attempt to buy all the bottles, we realize—there are only four 1.5 liter bottles of water in this whole boutik. There are only four bottles of water in this whole village, four bottles that we will share but we know it won’t last us the night.
We spend the day rationing out the water in tiny sips, sitting in the shade so as to not burn our energy. The heat is unbearable. It is all we can think about. We are so dehydrated that Madeleine and I don’t have to use the bathroom all day, not until evening, and then only a trickle. I long for the ease of Dakar, where there are at least three boutiks on every street and all of them sell the giant five-liter jugs.
As dusk falls, we are down to our last bottle and a half, and we don’t know when we will next be able to get water. Madeleine and Will go to the boutik and return with bottles of Sprite and carbonated apple juice, which we guzzle with gratitude. That night, Madeline and I take a half bottle to bed, worried out of our minds about how we will get water for tomorrow—we certainly don’t have enough. Will tells us the next day how, without any water, he sipped sickly sweet apple juice all night.
Luckily, the next day Will is able to travel an hour to the nearest town, and returns with two five-liter jugs, which will easily last us until the next day. We feel rich, richer than millionaires!