IWAS in primary school in the mid- to late 1980s during a spell of water lock-offs. At the time, I was living with my granny just outside Old Harbour in St Catherine. Water went anytime the electricity went. Not before I came to live in Kingston in 2001 did I know it was possible for water to still be in the tap during a power outage. Folks in Spanish Town and beyond will tell you that ‘light gone’ means ‘water gone’. And it still feels like magic today to rise in your Kingston 6 town house and see water gushing from the tap during a JPS outage.
One day, a government-owned water truck came to the housing scheme to deliver the crystal juice to households that hadn’t seen the stuff for weeks. People swarmed the truck like ants to Cheese Trix, toting pan, bucket, pail, drum, carboy, flower pot, along with anything metallic or plastic that could hold the life juice. The driver of the truck worked with two gruff, scruffy-looking sidemen responsible for managing the hoses intended for attachment to the three outlet valves welded on to the left side of the vehicle.
The three-man water crew wore khaki suits that had seen better days and perhaps, because of the stress induced by having to deal with ‘ol’ nayga’ cussing them for being weeks late in delivering water, were in a foul mood. I couldn’t have been older than six, but I remember them threatening several times to leave the community if the what’s-it-not people never behaved their ‘bungo-blood-pushy-rash-clash’ selves.
Nowadays, I chuckle when I read about persons raising concerns about the quality of the water trucked to them during a drought or extended lock-off. Back then, we didn’t have the luxury of worrying about whether the damn thing came from the disgusting, stinking Duhaney River, snaking along the border of Kingston and St Andrew, or any of the streams around the Soapberry sewage-treatment plant. We just wanted water.
At the time, my granny had some crockery that she would probably not allow Jesus to use if he lived in the community. For a woman who knew only poverty, these precious plates, cups and saucers were her most treasured possessions, and apart from her house, a Singer sewing machine and a Kelvinator deep freeze represented her only assets of real value.
As the truck made its way to our house, my granny had surmised that those persons living on the side of the world where the truck’s outlet valves were pointing got first preference with getting water. So as the vehicle inched its way to us, she hatched a plan. She ordered me to call her when the truck got to our gate, before dashing inside the house. By the time it came to us, the truck was running low and the sidemen were refusing to fill anything larger than a bucket or wash pan.
My granny emerged and promptly went to the driver. ‘How yuh do, mi son? Yuh sup any warm tea from mawnin?’ ‘No?’ ‘Then come eat one sandwich and drink likkle green tea nuh, man. After yuh no worse dan nuh baddy.’ The driver switched off the engine, padlocked the main outlet valve and went into my yard with his crew.
As the neighbours cursed, putting together various combinations of bungo-blood-pushy-rash and clash, I watched in astonishment as the scruffy-looking water crew sat down in my tiny living room-cum-kitchen, effectively having high tea, with egg sandwiches from which the edges of the bread were cut. They ate and drank from crockery that had never been used in the years before nor since.
After belching and thanking Mama, the men returned to the truck, filled up the three 55gallon drums in my yard, along with every other receptacle we could find, before shutting off the valves and beating a hasty retreat from the community, bad words ringing in their ears.
I write this in memory of my granny, champion and sponsor, Joyce Beckford, who would have celebrated her 82nd birthday on September 26 this year had she not left me in August 2010. I will always love you.
Nowadays, I chuckle when I read about persons raising concerns about the quality of the water trucked to them during a drought or extended lock-off. Back then, we didn’t have the luxury of worrying about whether the damn thing came from the disgusting, stinking Duhaney River ... We just wanted water.