I set a meeting with Bitek, my Acholi friend who digs wells, for nine in the morning. So at ten o’clock Bitek arrives.
We sit out on the patio in front of the hotel, sipping hot tea. He tells me a little about his trip from Sorotti. It took him all of last night and all of the morning to reach here. We talk a bit about his younger brother, whom we both adore, and then I show him the photos of the water source of Te Okot.
“They’re drinking this, Bitek.”
“It’s no good,” he agrees.
“What would it take to get them a well?” I brace myself to hear the improbable, if not the impossible. My thread of faith is thin, but it’s a thread nonetheless and I can’t sleep at night knowing that a lack of clean water is killing the people of Te Okot.
“I’d need to go out and survey the land first, but once we found a water source, then we’d start drilling.”
“How long would that take? And how much would it cost?” I gulp hot tea too quickly and it steams down my throat.
“It takes two weeks and costs one thousand five hundred dollars.”
“What??? One thousand five hundred dollars?”
Relief floods my face and I feel flushed with the possibility of clean, drinkable water. For Denis and his family. For Mama & Musee. For Michael and Onen and Patrick and their wives and children. For Agnes and Olarra and sweet, baby Aber.
The word overwhelms me, becomes the thump of my heart hidden deep inside my chest.
Wa-ter, wa-ter, wa-ter.
I think of the people of Te Okot and how when I asked them to prioritize among a school, a medical clinic and water, they shouted, “Pii! Pii! Pii!” Water! Water! Water!
Bitek continues. “The community is responsible for feeding the workers while we are there. Then we train 2-3 men on how to maintain the well so that when parts need replacement, they can do it themselves instead of relying on us.”
I love this plan so much that I narrowly resist the urge to tackle Bitek, to drown him in gangly hugs that are far too tight and far too long.
“What’s your schedule like? I mean, when could you start?” I can barely remain in my seat.
“We could go survey the site tomorrow and then we just have to finish the well in Sorotti. After that we have no wells to dig. Our timeline is empty.”
“Really???” It comes out as a squeal.
I place a quick call to Denis to make sure tomorrow is okay. He confirms that it is and thanks me more times than I can count.
Bitek asks about my mom and I take the stairs two at a time until I reach her door. I’m breathless and don’t even wait for her to open the door. I shout the good news about the possibility of water through her door.
The word pulses through my veins now.
After a few minutes of visiting with my mom, Bitek leaves us with the promise to pick me up at eight the next morning. I’ll be ready at eight. He will likely arrive at nine and then we’ll ride his boda boda three hours to Te Okot to survey the land, to look for signs of water hidden deep within the heart of the land.
There’s a road sign on the way to Te Okot that says Got Apwoyo. The literal translation of Apwoyo is ‘rabbit’, but it’s also the word for ‘hello’ and most importantly it’s the word for ‘thanks’. Got means ‘mountain’. So while the sign is really a marker for Mt. Rabbit, I can’t help but think that the sign is asking me, “Got thanks?”
Power has gone out again and in the darkening night I pray for the heart of the land of Te Okot to run deep with water. And then I think of that road sign and pray that my heart will run deep with gratitude. Got Apwoyo, indeed.