From its arrival in Marofarihy, the material and drill technology need to travel further: another 16 kilometers through very rough terrain are still ahead, most of which is inaccessible by car, as we are soon to find out.

 

Click on the map to see it full size.

In the meantime, the mayor of Amboanjo has mobilized a few young men to transport the material on bicycles. Building a water pump is a collective effort, and all the villagers’ active participation is required. The further we get into the bush, the more this collective participation becomes apparent.

 

On the second day we find some men who are willing to take us to the construction site on their motorbikes.

F

rom a mechanic’s point of view, it might be tempting to see the construction of a pump as a merely technical endeavor. Our collaboration with a technical team has left us in awe of their extremely skillful and challenging work. Yet, since the inception of the project it has been a continuous struggle to convince the technical team that a lot of work is needed to embed the technology in the social and cultural dimensions of life too. Namely, to allow for the successful uptake and maintenance of the pumps a social reordering of the world takes place. In the following journey we want to draw your attention to the intractable, yet miraculous worldmaking entailed by a travelling machine.

 

As de Laet and Mol (2000) have observed, the bush pump is a ‘mutable mobile’ that not only constantly changes shape - and, in this case is so unstable that it is almost bound to fall apart - the team also needs to allow for a continuity of performance. Following this fascinating journey gives us insight into a normative and social reordering of the world in which some elements remain stable, while unexpected others are added.

We are convinced that not including the villagers from the very beginning is, at least in part, one of the reasons why so many pumps in Africa break frequently, lack maintenance or are abandoned altogether.

 

Unfortunately, it is too often the case that well-intended outside interventions attempt to translate ‘Western’ models of governance onto contexts where institutions and values are completely different. And even though the technical team is Malagasy and they have an understanding of the rural contexts in which they work, they are trained to look at their work through an engineering lens.

 

An important element that is taken into consideration when choosing the location of the pump is the question where is the nearest water source, (even though sometimes they are extremely polluted)  such as the rice fields, an open hand dug well, or the river. But the worst case is when there is no water in the vicinity at all.

 

The photos show a broken water pump in the village of Amboanjo.

 

Deliberations: or, the eternal battle for technical and social worldmaking

 

As soon as the mechanics are on site, the eternal battle over technical versus social priorities unfolds. The technical team insists to determine the right location for the pump immediately, since they need time to find out if it is technically feasible and the aquifer within reach. A few of the elements they have to take into account is the right type of soil and whether the soil is not too polluted - i.e. not too close to a toilet, cattle pen or rice fields - and then the drilling exercise can begin.

 

Our team has continuously insisted that before choosing the location of the pump, we need to talk to the villagers first. However, upon arrival we learn that the technical team has already sent someone ahead to make sure they arrive on site first. To our frustration they once again contend that ‘after our job is done, you can do your anthropology’.

 

From experience we know that a lot more work is needed to get the location right and be attentive to the cultural and political values of land, talk to both women and men, and the right authorities, in this case the ampanjaka (traditional authority).

 

Unfortunately, daily life and duties take their toll and most women are preparing food or are working on the rice fields. We plea for some patience with the decision because we want to hear the opinion of the women too, and in absence of the mayor, the mayor’s wife shows a remarkable degree of leadership. Upon arrival at the mayor’s house, the mayor’s wife receives us with a warm welcome and a beautiful celebratory meal. There appears to be a misunderstanding as the mayor thought that the team is going to build two water pumps, so we need time to explain that we can only afford to build one pump, which is at the same time the very last pump that we are going to build. This brings new political tensions to the fore, because a choice has to be made now between two sub villages. The mayor is consulted and he has to make an impromptu decision. It appears that he takes a remarkable and for us counter-intuitive decision, since he chooses the sub village that is not his ancestral land. After inquiring further, we find out that this has a very important cultural significance, and is captured by the Malagasy word Fandeferana, which loosely translates as tolerance. In this particular context, the mayor elaborates that ‘it is better that we suffer than the other village, because together we tolerate’. In other words, he feels more comfortable with satisfying the other sub village and he can be in charge of trying ease the disappointment from the people who form part of his own ancestral land.

 

 

(Click on the images to see captions.)

The technicians approve of the site, but the smell of the water from the rice fields prompts them to move the location 15 metres up the slope out of fear of pollution. Finally, the work can begin and the villagers start with digging.

The further we get into the bush, the less accessible the roads are and the only suitable means of transport left is the human body.

 

The villagers are responsible for collecting sand, gravel and sufficient water

so that the soil is made accessible to drill.

 

The villagers are responsible for collecting sand, gravel and sufficient water

so that the soil is made accessible to drill.

Most women are still cooking food for their families or are caught up in other household-related duties so all the tasks are left to the available men. Later however, some women join too.

And even the smallest members of society contribute.

On site,  other  men are tasked with carrying sand bags that weigh up to 60 kg.

But daily life also continues and not everybody has time to contribute. This mother seizes the opportunity of this social gathering to proudly show her newborn to the world.

Photo: Sara de Wit

But daily life also continues and not everybody has time to contribute. This mother seizes the opportunity of this social gathering to proudly show her newborn to the world.

Photo: Sara de Wit

But daily life also continues and not everybody has time to contribute. This mother seizes the opportunity of this social gathering to proudly show her newborn to the world.

Photo: Sara de Wit

Appropriation

 

The local appropriation of the technology requires the successful enrolment of an array of human and nonhuman actors. If the soil, the water level and bacteria are not right, the whole undertaking is prone to fail. The type of sand necessary for making the pump’s paving requires a certain quality that is only found some 5 kilometers away.

Getting ready to drill

 

Then the exciting process of actual drilling begins and nobody can tell in advance if the aquifer will be reached and good water quality will be found. Part of our contract is that if no water will be found after three drilling attempts, we share the financial costs with the technical team.

 

Working with old and broken material places a high burden on the work of the technicians; parts are glued and stitched together, others replaced by plastic bottles. The technicians are so used to this way of working that they have become masters of tinkering, and they creatively muddle their way through the infrastructural and material challenges.

 

On the other side of the crystal

 

When all the actors finally appear willing to join, the most crucial element of all, the generator, refuses to work. While collective despair looms, it dawns on the community that an existential realm has been left out. That is, on the other side of the crystal.

 

The elders [ray-e-mandreny] call for a ritual blessing of the land for which they need to address the ancestors. They send one of the younger boys to buy some locally brewed rum in town. After a few hours of trying, the generator still does not reveal any sign of life. A palpable silence can be felt when one of the elders leads in prayer.

 

 

The sacrifice has been accepted and the land is blessed by the members on the other side of the crystal - a joyful moment that is celebrated by sharing the rest of the rum with all the adult community members.

 

Learn more about the meaning of  "the other side of the crystal" in the dedicated story on this page.

Drilling continues

 

The technicians work throughout the unbearably hot day, while the rest of the villagers seek refuge under the shade of the tree.

 

After each additional pipe has been inserted into the soil, a sample is taken to carefully scrutinize the quality of the soil and to see if water is near. Is drinking water  found?

 

The following photos show this endeavour.

The technicians start twisting the drill into the borehole.

Villagers are witnessing the work.

The drill mechanism is leaking.

The hose is also leaking.

A technician is attaching  an additional pipe to the drill mechanism.

The drilling begins.

Great strenght is required by the technician who drills the pipe into the ground.

After each additional pipe has been inserted into the soil, a sample is taken to carefully scrutinize the quality of the soil and to see if water is near.

One of the soil samples in close up.

The day long drill operation is witnessed with great concentration by all the present villagers.

After 8 metres of drilling, the first signs of water are found.

The work continues for two days, after which the villagers have access to potable water for the first time in their lives.

Now the construction can be deemed successful, the cattle pen nearby needs to be relocated to be sure that no pollution of the water occurs.

After a few weeks, when our team has already left the village, we receive the good news that the pump is widely used, and so the mayor has allocated money for another water pump.

Now, the second sub-village will get water too. Good things come to those who wait.

 

This is such spectacular news because the whole undertaking, from funding to constructing is done without any outside intervention. In other words, from beginning till the end it has become a Malagasy enterprise.

 

The construction of a Malagasy bush pump

A story about a travelling technology

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Deliberations: or, the eternal battle for technical and social worldmaking

 

As soon as the mechanics are on site, the eternal battle over technical versus social priorities unfolds. The technical team insists to determine the right location for the pump immediately, since they need time to find out if it is technically feasible and the aquifer within reach. A few of the elements they have to take into account is the right type of soil and whether the soil is not too polluted - i.e. not too close to a toilet, cattle pen or rice fields - and then the drilling exercise can begin.

 

Our team has continuously insisted that before choosing the location of the pump, we need to talk to the villagers first. However, upon arrival we learn that the technical team has already sent someone ahead to make sure they arrive on site first. To our frustration they once again contend that ‘after our job is done, you can do your anthropology’.

 

From experience we know that a lot more work is needed to get the location right and be attentive to the cultural and political values of land, talk to both women and men, and the right authorities, in this case the ampanjaka (traditional authority).

 

Unfortunately, daily life and duties take their toll and most women are preparing food or are working on the rice fields. We plea for some patience with the decision because we want to hear the opinion of the women too, and in absence of the mayor, the mayor’s wife shows a remarkable degree of leadership. Upon arrival at the mayor’s house, the mayor’s wife receives us with a warm welcome and a beautiful celebratory meal. There appears to be a misunderstanding as the mayor thought that the team is going to build two water pumps, so we need time to explain that we can only afford to build one pump, which is at the same time the very last pump that we are going to build. This brings new political tensions to the fore, because a choice has to be made now between two sub villages. The mayor is consulted and he has to make an impromptu decision. It appears that he takes a remarkable and for us counter-intuitive decision, since he chooses the sub village that is not his ancestral land. After inquiring further, we find out that this has a very important cultural significance, and is captured by the Malagasy word Fandeferana, which loosely translates as tolerance. In this particular context, the mayor elaborates that ‘it is better that we suffer than the other village, because together we tolerate’. In other words, he feels more comfortable with satisfying the other sub village and he can be in charge of trying ease the disappointment from the people who form part of his own ancestral land.

 

 

Click on the images to see them full size, and see captions.

The construction of a Malagasy bush pump

A story about a travelling technology

Deliberations: or, the eternal battle for technical and social worldmaking

 

As soon as the mechanics are on site, the eternal battle over technical versus social priorities unfolds. The technical team insists to determine the right location for the pump immediately, since they need time to find out if it is technically feasible and the aquifer within reach. A few of the elements they have to take into account is the right type of soil and whether the soil is not too polluted - i.e. not too close to a toilet, cattle pen or rice fields - and then the drilling exercise can begin.

 

Our team has continuously insisted that before choosing the location of the pump, we need to talk to the villagers first. However, upon arrival we learn that the technical team has already sent someone ahead to make sure they arrive on site first. To our frustration they once again contend that ‘after our job is done, you can do your anthropology’.

 

From experience we know that a lot more work is needed to get the location right and be attentive to the cultural and political values of land, talk to both women and men, and the right authorities, in this case the ampanjaka (traditional authority).

 

Unfortunately, daily life and duties take their toll and most women are preparing food or are working on the rice fields. We plea for some patience with the decision because we want to hear the opinion of the women too, and in absence of the mayor, the mayor’s wife shows a remarkable degree of leadership. Upon arrival at the mayor’s house, the mayor’s wife receives us with a warm welcome and a beautiful celebratory meal. There appears to be a misunderstanding as the mayor thought that the team is going to build two water pumps, so we need time to explain that we can only afford to build one pump, which is at the same time the very last pump that we are going to build. This brings new political tensions to the fore, because a choice has to be made now between two sub villages. The mayor is consulted and he has to make an impromptu decision. It appears that he takes a remarkable and for us counter-intuitive decision, since he chooses the sub village that is not his ancestral land. After inquiring further, we find out that this has a very important cultural significance, and is captured by the Malagasy word Fandeferana, which loosely translates as tolerance. In this particular context, the mayor elaborates that ‘it is better that we suffer than the other village, because together we tolerate’. In other words, he feels more comfortable with satisfying the other sub village and he can be in charge of trying ease the disappointment from the people who form part of his own ancestral land.

 

Joéline points out the potential location where the villagers want the pump.

The technicians approve of the site, but the smell of the water from the rice fields prompts them to move the location 15 metres up the slope out of fear of pollution. Finally, the work can begin and the villagers start with digging.

 

The villagers are responsible for collecting sand, gravel and sufficient water

so that the soil is made accessible to drill.

Most women are still cooking food for their families or are caught up in other household-related duties so all the tasks are left to the available men. Later however, some women join too.

And even the smallest members of society contribute.

On site,  other  men are tasked with carrying sand bags that weigh up to 60 kg.

But daily life also continues and not everybody has time to contribute. This mother seizes the opportunity of this social gathering to proudly show her newborn to the world.

Photo: Sara de Wit

Appropriation

 

The local appropriation of the technology requires the successful enrolment of an array of human and nonhuman actors. If the soil, the water level and bacteria are not right, the whole undertaking is prone to fail. The type of sand necessary for making the pump’s paving requires a certain quality that is only found some 5 kilometers away.

 

   

Getting ready to drill

 

Then the exciting process of actual drilling begins and nobody can tell in advance if the aquifer will be reached and good water quality will be found. Part of our contract is that if no water will be found after three drilling attempts, we share the financial costs with the technical team.

 

Working with old and broken material places a high burden on the work of the technicians; parts are glued and stitched together, others replaced by plastic bottles. The technicians are so used to this way of working that they have become masters of tinkering, and they creatively muddle their way through the infrastructural and material challenges.

 

The sacrifice has been accepted and the land is blessed by the members on the other side of the crystal - a joyful moment that is celebrated by sharing the rest of the rum with all the adult community members.

 

On the other side of the crystal

 

When all the actors finally appear willing to join, the most crucial element of all, the generator, refuses to work. While collective despair looms, it dawns on the community that an existential realm has been left out. That is, on the other side of the crystal.

 

The elders [ray-e-mandreny] call for a ritual blessing of the land for which they need to address the ancestors. They send one of the younger boys to buy some locally brewed rum in town. After a few hours of trying, the generator still does not reveal any sign of life. A palpable silence can be felt when one of the elders leads in prayer.

 

 

Learn more about the meaning of  "the other side of the crystal" in the dedicated story on this page.

Drilling continues

 

The technicians work throughout the unbearably hot day, while the rest of the villagers seek refuge under the shade of the tree.

 

After each additional pipe has been inserted into the soil, a sample is taken to carefully scrutinize the quality of the soil and to see if water is near. Is drinking water  found?

 

The following photos show this endeavour.

The technicians start twisting the drill into the borehole.

Villagers are witnessing the work.

The drill mechanism is leaking.

The work continues for two days, after which the villagers have access to potable water for the first time in their lives.

After a few weeks, when our team has already left the village, we receive the good news that the pump is widely used, and so the mayor has allocated money for another water pump.

Now, the second sub-village will get water too. Good things come to those who wait.

 

This is such spectacular news because the whole undertaking, from funding to constructing is done without any outside intervention. In other words, from beginning till the end it has become a Malagasy enterprise.