By: Salisu Suleiman.
You may not remember me, but I am the oldest woman in the Village of the Empty Wells. The last source of water in the village is about to dry up and I must make my arrangements. I know that when the last well drains out, my time is up. But before then, I will sit down with my offspring to dictate my dirge. In my funeral song, I shall ask many questions. I shall make inquiries that will be my long dagger from my dry, dusty grave.
When the last spring in my acreage can bring forth no more water, I shall ask them what crime I committed that doomed me to a life of drudgery and despair. I shall ask them why they made so many promises, but kept none. My ears ring with stories of fortunes I cannot envisage – they tell me a mountain of money was frittered to give us water, but the only drops I see are when the clouds weep with despair on my parched plot.
I will ask to know why in a lifetime the only variation was that I trudged to fetch water with earthenware while my granddaughters trek to fetch water with plastic ware. I shall seek to know why they built a mighty weir 20 miles away from the Village of the Empty Wells, but refuse to give us drinking water. I shall ask them why they took over our ancestral farmlands to build the dam that is of no use to anyone, and then refused all claims of recompense. My ancestors still rage at that sacrilege.
When the brook squeezes out its very last drop and my herds can eke out nothing to moisten their tongues with, I know the end of our ancient plains has come. In my requiem, I will ask for the water no one can see, taste, or scent. I shall ask why they diverted my ancestral stream to feed the dam and left us bereft and deprived of all succour.
In my litany of lament, I shall ask why they condemned us womenfolk to hiking several miles each day to fetch brackish, muddy water that gives us typhoid, cholera and dysentery. I will demand answers to why they let our sons drink water from the tributary that makes them ill and useless for farm work. I shall ask why they let our brothers and husbands go blind from river blindness though the white man gave us remedies for free.
My funeral chant will spare no one. My long sword from the grave shall seek to know why our brood that fled the Village of the Empty Wells for the city still ended up on the fringes of a city with no water. They tell me they buy every single pail of water in plastic tanks: They fled the village for lack of water, and ended up in the city with no water. I walk many miles to fetch diseased water; they use hard-earned money to buy contaminated water. The oasis that dragged them forth turned out to a mirage of misery.
My lamentation shall seek answers to why a land that is blessed with so much water and so much rainfall still lacks water to drink. They must explain why our realm of over 300 dams, big and small, still loses souls to water-borne diseases. I shall remind them about the charade of years ago, when they brought the world to inaugurate a borehole filled with water from a tanker. The flow of water stopped with the dum-dum of the drums and the cutting of the ribbons. It is now just another empty well in a village of many empty wells.
From the halting heartbeats of misery that is my lot, my back is bent, my feet calloused, my neck in unending pain. But I refuse to be cowed. I shall ask them why they stole so much just to pamper their palates with French bottled water, while my grandchildren choke their ways through life on murky, muddy waters. The fortitude that kept me toiling away for a lifetime will converge to give me one final burst of courage. And with my new found bravery, I shall ask plenty of questions.
When the last well in the Village of the Empty Wells dries up, I shall spare no one. With my lone voice from the shallow sands that shall shortly swallow me, my funeral song shall say to them: only if there was no death; only if there was no ill health; only if they had gold in their girth; only if there was no end to the earth; only then would I covet their vast wealth.