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Water Carrier

Brooks Mendell writes and runs a forestry business in Northeast Georgia. He has published books on forestry and baseball, and worked in the woods of California, Washington, and the U.S. South. His website is brooksmendell.com.
Day Four
My arrival at Rundar caused less commotion than the discovery of my NPR coffee mug. The Rundarians appear technologically inconsistent. While they developed remarkable weaving techniques, they seem to lack the basic insights for storing, collecting or carrying liquids.
The implications speak to the trove of tools and conveniences we take for granted. No cooking bowls. No liquid fuels. No batteries. No shampoos or ink pens or sewage systems or flower vases. No morning coffee.
Rundarians live in communal villages around water sources that percolate from the ground into small lagoons. Meals consist of chopped roots mixed with berries and nuts picked from nearby bushes all served on flat stones. Before and after each meal, Rundarians line up at the lagoon, kneel on softened strips of bark, and drink directly from the pool of water, like deer at a lake.
Day Six
The inability to carry or transport water restricts, in the traditional sense, travel. No water bottle limits any voyage to destinations within practical distance of the next commune and its water source.
Today, a group of seven, ragged Rundarians arrived at the village. The leader of the group greeted the local elder, kneeling and touching his forehead to her outstretched hand. He spoke in soft, rhythmic mumbles, and the village elder began to cry. Then they embraced, and the entire village collected near the water source and hummed in a unified prayer, holding hands.
Afterward, life resumed, as if nothing had happened.
Day Seventeen
A group of five arrived today. I once again witnessed the somber ritual from over a week ago. The formal greeting, the cry, and the communal prayer.
By now, I am learning or recognizing basic customs and norms. I can articulate the native greetings and, when appropriate, sign language, for "food" or "eat," for "sleep," "need to urinate/defecate," and "gather." I am also aware of designated "water carriers."
The term confused me at first. Yet the purpose has become clearer. When groups prepare to journey, they delegate specific responsibilities for food preparation, guiding, and security. And one or two are designated water carriers. When groups return from travel, the elaborate prayer ritual occurs when they have lost a member.
Day Nineteen
The village has some distress and struggles to prepare a group for journey. I volunteer to join the group. The elder comes to me and kneels, puts her forehead to my hand and seems to kiss my wrist.
She designates me a water carrier. I feel embarrassed by the honor. We embrace.
I join the five others in our group near the water source where we drink first before and after the village meal. Then we drink again in preparation for our departure.
Day Twenty-Three
The group has slowed and chews moist berries distributed by the food carrier. We clearly need water. I see members of the group conferring as we trudge the range, a kind of wide sparsely vegetated savannah.
Day Twenty-Six
The leader of our group stops our slow march and looks to me. He approaches and the other four line up behind him. He kneels before me and I put out my hand. He takes my hand and turns it over as did the elder when she kissed me. I freeze as tubular fangs release in his mouth and sink into my wrist. I feel the fluid drain from my body and understand how I carried water, and life, for the group.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, October 24th, 2018


The idea for this story arrived during an NPR Driveway Moment. Parked in front of my office and listening to the radio during a stream of consciousness, I remembered going with my family years ago to see The Gods Must Be Crazy, an indie film about a tribe in South Africa disrupted by the arrival of a single Coco-Cola bottle, which proves useful for carrying water and inciting conflict, two features we rarely find in tandem. Then I imagined visiting a peaceful village lacking the ability to carry water.

- Brooks C. Mendell
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