Visiting Adi Sibhat

Last week our colleague Behailu was in Adi Sibhat catching up with the progress the project is making. We’ll share photos and stories over the next few days, but we wanted to share this email he sent to us now:


Every visit to Adi Sibhat has been amazing. And I have been there three times in the past month and a half. If there is anything that constantly amazes me about that place, though, it’s the people.

They are just wonderful people. When I first heard of the name Adi Sibhat, I translated the word in its direct form and thought it meant – ‘land of gratefulness’ or something along those lines. It was when I visited that an old woman told me it actually meant ‘land of white meat’. It was named back in the day, when people valued white meat. “Sheep from this area were known to have been fattened well. It was that green and productive, back in the good old days,” she told me.

It didn’t take me more than an evening to realise how scarce water is in that community. I spent a night at Mengesha’s house. They were very friendly and hospitable hosts – his wife and three little children.

When it was time for dinner, nine-year-old Maeregu started pouring water in a round. That sign indicated dinner was about to follow. I am Ethiopian too and I know the tradition. The guest washes first, unless there is somebody who is really old, in which case they will be revered regardless of the presence of a guest.

So I accepted the offer to wash my hands first. But then I noticed that she didn’t pour enough water on to my hands. She actually placed two of her middle fingers at the tip of the cup from which she poured the water and let just enough water trickle through between her fingers.

I didn’t know why she was doing it but waited until her mother did it again after we ate. Then I asked for an explanation. I was told, “If you don’t put your fingers at the tip of the cup, how can you economise the water? It will be wasted. Do you want more water?” No, no! I only wanted to know why.

Water isn’t something they play with. Water is sacred even among children. That’s when I realised how BIG the Big Pipe Project actually is for them.

When I went back this week to see the development of the project, the pipe is already in the middle of the community where the tap stands are being constructed. I was there to document the progress of the construction process. But I documented something I wasn’t there for. I saw the construction of a totally new attitude towards water. I saw Kassa’s daughter just scooping water and spilling it on the ground. She was scolded by adults for wasting water, even though the water will flow non-stop until the reservoir is finished.

The adults have yet to come to terms with the fact that water isn’t and shouldn’t be as sacred as it used to be before. But children are more conscious of the change that is happening in their village, and they are responding to it.

When I got to the village, Tesfakiros Tsegaye, the contracted mason, was starting to build the walls of the reservoir while the people were in the river basin, breaking and collecting stone. The turn out was so big for such a small village! I was surprised by their determination.

When the sun started going down and work was called off, the chairperson of the village and Yared gathered the community – both the ones that were doing labour work and the ones that were only walking back into the village after a day out in the nearby town – to express utter dissatisfaction with the level of determination the community is showing towards the project.

I thought, “What are they talking about? Those guys were just carrying stone a third of their own size like a feather.” But the chairperson was talking of the facts that he has in his hands. He registered 55 people while the previous day there had been 85 labourers – human and donkey. “Why did it drop today? Have we got what we want yet? Or do we have a more burning issue?” He interrogated the community members with a sincere tone.

Yared and I measured the height of the reservoir walls that were constructed on that day. It was about 45 centimetres. “Long way to go,” Yared told me. “The reservoir is going to be 180 centimetres high and 260 metres wide both sides. We have to move faster so that they get their water before Ethiopian Christmas.”

When finished, the reservoir will have a capacity of 12,000 litres. Yared and I took a jug that holds a litre of water and counted how long it took the pipe to fill the jug. Almost two seconds. The rough estimate is therefore 0.5 litres per second. At this rate, the pipe produces close to 43,200 litres of water a day. For a community of about 800 people, it’s a staggering 54 litres of water a day per head. I am not sure if I get more water a day in my apartment in Addis Ababa.

If we say the water production rate drops by half during summer, it will still produce more than enough water for the community considering the World Health Organisation recommends approximately 20 litres of water per capita per day as basic access level and accessing such water within five minutes walking distance.

By the time I left the community, it was over 70 centimetres high and still going getting higher… It was nice to see their dreams growing every day. When I go back there on 28 December, my next visit, it will all be grown up and flowing.

I hope to see children pouring and messing with water as is typical of other children the world over.

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