WOMEN WATER AND MEMORY – Book Sample
About the Book – WOMEN WATER AND MEMORY
Thebook tells a different story about water. Against the backdrop of the end of the Ottoman Empire to the Palestinian uprisings, old Palestinian women recount life before and after piped water. While talking about fetching and managing household water, women also talked about being women. Women, Water and Memory speaks of many different lives.
We hear stories about women’s own strength and beauty, and about the woman who married a man whose ugly face made her sick. While one woman married the man she cared for, another was relieved that her husband died when she was too old to be forced to remarry.
We learn about the joy they feel each time they dance at a wedding, the sheer satisfaction of lighting a cigarette, the loyalty and shared despair towards families with members in prison, and about the tears of sorrow at each death and the delight at each birth.
Introduction – Being in the World
In 1985 Musharafah got its much longed for piped water. The initial reaction in the village was that finally, after years of stagnation, the village market would grow, children would get an education, men would find “good jobs” and life would be prosperous for all.
The mothers and grandmothers in the village were tired of fetching water. Younger women were attempting to get higher education or to enter the job market, and they were not always available to help the older women. In short, people were waiting for “development” to reach their place.
Preceding the piped water system, or what the health consultants in Ramallah call potable water, daily household lives were dependent on the younger women, who were given the task of fetching water for cooking and washing. They had also to make sure that some of that water was left for the small gardens which were kept in the backyard of each house.
The general irrigation of trees and other crops was dependent on the rain during the winter months. The advent of piped water was identified among the women and the men in the village as a good that was going to be available for them to use. It was assumed that the resource would be evenly distributed and that not only household chores but also irrigation would be easy. The women supposed that infant mortality would decline, because sanitation would be easier.
With piped water the older generation saw, finally, the possibility of enjoying the blessings of old age: rest, respect and authority.
Piped water did not come alone. It was accompanied by connection to the electricity network, and in the two first years following the piped water and the installation of electrical services, televisions, and refrigerators and washing machines were also introduced in Musharafah.
Sons, some daughters and husbands working abroad came home with electric appliances. Everything seemed to go according to expectations; children went to school; men had jobs, and more young women joined the labour market. There was water inside the households, and the TV was constantly switched on. But then, what the women refer to as the zaman, which means here circumstances, changed. First the political landscape changed.
The first Palestinian intifadah started in 1987, and soon men in the village were involved in political activities that brought years of economic sanctions and an increase in men migrating from the village to find work elsewhere: many never returned to the village. More and more women were left alone to keep up the household and the expenses tied to running the household.
The initial relief tied to the centralisation of water turned to anxiety, loneliness and deprivation. But there were also more basic issues involved. At the start of my fieldwork in 1995 I soon realised, that, in spite of the seemingly clear advantages of running water, there was another side of the story.
In spite of the advantages of a modernised water system, the women I met gave the impression that spring water was not so bad after all. For one thing, the women told me that the spring water tasted better and had more colour.
I also found out that the rigid and seemingly antiquated framework of fetching water for the household was a tradition serving all sorts of unexpected practical purposes in the lives of the women, and also men. At the spring women waited their turn, while engag- ing in interaction and conversations that helped reproduce universes of meaning.
The spring was a centre around which not only female activities revolved; also village negotiations concerning life in the village took place and it was the main place in which to look for a bride and a legitimate place for boys to observe girls.
The water spring was a physical place where women spent much of their time: walking towards it, waiting in line, filling water and walking back with full jars or cans. During these occasions they exchanged news, gossip, discussed marriage arrangements and assisted each other with information relevant to so many female activities. Some women I met were born in the village; others came from the surrounding vil- lages. Some were materially comfortable, while others were poor.
Some were in their eighties and some were in their sixties. But to all of them water, and the activities related to fetching and managing water, was above all about their ‘being in th, to put it in their own language, like hajar al tahoun ), stones that grind the corn.
These are stones that never stop turning and pounding. I have explained these issues in earlier publications (2005); they form the set- ting to Women, Water and Memory as well.
This book is not only about changes that come about when spring water is replaced by piped water; it is also an allegory for the impress of significant historic moments on women’s lives, about people’s ‘lives as lived.’2 Water, and the way it is organised thus opens up a world of interrelated activities, of systems of meanings, and of social and
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