One Hand Washes the Other

DryTapAt the Ghana Water Company one hand washes the other. Therefore it’s a fact of life in Ghana that the paying public can’t always wash their hands. Corruption and outright theft prevent this essential resource from trickling down into our taps. And so the taboo against allowing your left hand (the one you wipe with) to come in contact with others. You shake hands, eat, and pass money with your right hand only.

In a Ghana Web news story posted yesterday, corruption at the top levels of the Ghana Water Company came to light:

“Sources within Ghana Water Company disclosed to The Herald that William Adu-Ntiamoah and Frank Asiedu, suspecting the arrival of the new Regional Internal Auditor from Takoradi would lead to the detection of their nefarious activities, designed a scheme to robe [Sic] him into their corrupt web by regularly handing him part of the stolen money to shut him up.

In appreciation, Mr. Armarh innocently went to the Greater Accra Regional Manager, Yaw Addae-Mensah, thinking he was part of the corrupt scheme, to thank him for the regular free cash since assuming his new position. The new Regional Auditor, excitingly told the Regional Chief Manager that although at Takoradi, he got free cash as tips, they were not as huge as in Accra West.”

We went without water for four and a half days this past week. By Sunday, we were sweating it. Four days without water and it was only a matter of time before our rooftop storage tank ran dry. Hair washing, laundry and floor mopping were on hold until the taps began to run again. The three women of the house all have long hair which takes a fair amount of water to wash. I was happy that I’d washed mine on Wednesday but by Sunday was hoping to wash it again soon.

Meanwhile, I saw a couple of news stories about Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital also being out of water. Ghana Water Company Investigates Water Shortage at KATH and Water Shortage at KATH Compels Authorities to Suspend Surgeries. The three takeaways were:

“Officials of Ghana Water Company who expressed surprise at the reports of water shortage at the country’s second largest teaching hospital say everything would be done to save the situation.”

“Officials of the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital say plans are far advanced to complete a project to lay and connect pipes to about eight giant water storage tanks to all departments of the hospital.”

“The fate of some patients hangs in the balance, at the Komfo Anokye Hospital in Kumasi as water shortage compels officials to put surgeries on hold.”

I began to count my blessings. No one in our household needed surgery and we still had water thanks to our rooftop storage tank. We weren’t surprised that Ghana Water was unaware of the shortage at the hospital but were surprised that the hospital doesn’t have a backup water storage system.

Our neighbors across the street generously decided to share their water. In the street outside our gate we watched Albert helping our Burkino Faso neighbors fill yellow “gallons” from a hose. Later we asked Albert if his taps were also dry and were confused by his answer. But we were pretty sure the water was coming from their storage tanks.


Bob looked out the window Saturday morning and concluded that the storage tank(s) had run dry at the house behind us. The neighbors were gathered in their back yard gazing up at someone who had climbed to the roof for a look at the tank. “See all that laundry hanging on their line?” Bob asked. Again we considered ourselves lucky. Because some of our taps pull from the city line, we know when the water stops flowing and when to conserve.

Happily, the water came back on just after midnight Monday morning. We got up before sunrise and started a load of laundry, filled the big water bucket in our bathroom and mopped the floors. Our housemates followed suit. Soon there was laundry hanging on all four lines. To top it off, we showered for the first time since Wednesday and washed our hair!

Life doesn’t get much better than this, with both the power and water on, full storage tanks, clean hair and floors. It’s enough to make you believe in god. And the devil. Next time someone awkwardly apologizes for passing something to me with their left hand, I’ll be reminded of Ghana’s sanitation challenges, Ghana Water Company and the pervasive corruption that makes Ghana such a special place.

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.

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