What is the worst crime you can commit when you are on a 1200km journey on foot through the desert, surviving from well to well? When you need water for the camels and for yourself? When the sun is beating down mercilessly and you last found water two days before?
Drop the bucket down the well.
And I plead guilty m’lud .
We’d arrived in a heavenly little oasis about 200 metres from a well of sweet water and the future looked rosy. The tents were up, we’d eaten lunch and it was time to wash both myself and my clothes. My socks were beginning to form their own little exclusion zone. I packed up my soap, washcloth, washing powder and laundry and headed to the well with my little purple bucket in my hand for back up because our big, black bucket was already at the well.
Full of confidence in my burgeoning well experience – I have been on the road for a couple of months so felt I could claim a certain expertise – I plunged the black bucket on its blue cord down into the water ten metres below and waggled it furiously to fill it up. Fill up it did, I heard it glug glug glug and felt a certain amount of smugness at my prowess as I began to pull it to the surface. Only one problem, the rope felt light… very light… too light! My heart sinking, I peered down over the lip into the depths and was just in time to see the silver handle disappear below the surface, lost forever.
I rushed back to camp. “There has been a DISASTER!,” I told Brahim guide, “I’ve dropped the bucket down the well!” That night, supper was spent plotting as to how we could get it back. “Tie Addi to a rope and lower him down,” said Brahim G. “The water is too deep,” said Brahim C. Socks unwashed, I sat sadly and stinkily at the back of the tent. “It’s the stick for you!” said Addi, softening the threat with a flashing smile and some dates. Washing up had to be done in the big cooking pot and I felt my shame keenly. The men, with remarkable self restraint, only mentioned my crime 3-4 times per day.
A week later, we were walking through some scrubland in low hills and Brahim G was slightly ahead. Suddenly, he let out an almighty shout, “Zahra, Zahra (my name here) come quickly, hurry.” Not knowing what to expect, I ran up, dodging Hamish the camel who always tries to bite me. I thought it might be an animal or an interesting rock but no it was something much more exciting, there clutched in Brahim’s hand, was an ancient black bucket.
“It is a miracle!” Brahim G said and I agreed wholeheartedly. “It’s very old and worn and it won’t hold the water,” said Addi, raining on my parade. “Trust in God,” said Brahim C. Rarely, in fact never, has anyone looked forward so much to doing the dishes. I filled the miracle bucket to the brim and not a drop of water leaked out. “Ha!,” I said to Addi. “Praise God, the Merciful the Compassionate,” said Brahim C.