Reflections on Water

In Earth, Season 2 by Celine Isimbi

Amazi is Kinyrwandan for Water. Amanzi is IsiXhosa and IsiZulu for Water. Ama is Cherokee for Water. Madzi is Chichewa for Water. Omi is Yoruba for Water. Dlo is Haitian Creole for Water

As I write this, I remember a question my professor posed to the class, “What is your gift to the Earth?”  This was after we discussed reciprocity and what it means to have a reciprocal relationship to your environments and the more-than-human world – the water, trees, fish, soil and the sky.  

You may ask, what was your reply? Well, it was this: “My gift is to return to my ancestral homelands and work towards healing my family’s intergenerational trauma associated with displacement. And to more broadly work and build with my community towards liberation for all beings.” 

To some of you reading this, it may seem like a ditsy and very idealistic reply. But to me and my family and families like mine, returning and healing connections and relationships are very real hopes and dreams. This can look like working to send money back to your home country or waking up on the weekend and hearing your mother on the phone with your grandparents or family who are located across the oceans due to displacement from war or genocide. This dream can also look like your parents using the little space they have to plant seeds, seeds of hope, in your backyard or limited balcony space to grow foods they grew in their childhood to stay connected to the land through food.

These seemingly small acts are practices to connect and relate through nature and the environments that our parents and our family now live in. In times when I have shared these thoughts and experiences with friends and community members, we all had similar experiences and stories of reconnection or maintaining relationships.  

As I write this and share these reflections, I think of Amazi, one of many constant things throughout our lives here on Earth, as we grow, as life forms, and as we enter through our mother’s womb. From birth to death, Amazi is constant until the moment we leave this world and connect to the next, and our bodies are cleansed in our death rituals. 

Voice recording – Ola Idris Ali – Who is water to me?

Amazi comes to us, lives within us, and flows from us in different shapes and forms. 

Even as I live here in the north, I know it’s Amazi that connects me to home. It is Amazi that holds the memories of a life once lived in faraway lands. 

However, it is also Amazi that has been at the center of many grief-stricken moments and moments of scarcity. 

Maybe, I should start with how I first understood Amazi – both when it was most scarce in my life and most abundant: 

I vividly remember a time in the early 2010s, in Cape Town, South Africa, when the rent prices were increasing, and landlords were taking advantage of the sudden boom in the housing market while neglecting every other amenity needed to live in a home. We were required to purchase water like we would gas or petrol for our car – pay per consumption. 

At this point, I was most conscious of the scarcity of Amazi and how unequal this element needed for life and living was now being valued through how many Rands per Litre of water we could afford. Always being aware of its necessity in our home. 

Voice Recording   Manella Mukangwa – Who is Water to me?

The second most profound moment of Amazi’s scarcity in my life was in 2018, during Cape Town’s potential ‘Day Zero.’ This “Day Zero” referenced a day when the major dams supplying the City of Cape Town with water would be below 13.5%. When this day would come, the city would start with level 7 water restrictions, the municipality’s water supplies would be switched off, and we would have to queue up for daily water rationing. And so, it began again, only being present with Amazi during its time of scarcity in my life – which seems like a cruel joke when you live in a coastal city surrounded by water.  

This possibility of a ‘Day Zero’ may have taken the world by surprise, but for many of us living on the margins of society, affected by racist urban planning, economic inequality, greedy landlords, and spatial dispossession, it was already a daily reality. For many people across the city, across the country, and in many parts of the world – it still is. 

The struggle for water in South Africa is not an isolated struggle; it is linked to the many struggles globally, from Turtle Island, Red Hill, and Hawaii to Palestine, Pakistan, Yemen, and Libya. Whether it’s water scarcity, neglected water infrastructure in sacrifice zones of urban cities, or the cutting of water in the occupied West Bank – reminiscent of the same anti-Black city planning policies by the Apartheid government in South Africa (still affecting many South Africans today). 

And as I restate these past and present atrocities by settler-colonial imperial states and governments driven by corporations like Nestle who buy ‘water rights’ while reselling Amazi at high costs, It’s important to highlight the ongoing practices of reconnection to Amazi as a Being and as a relation by many people and cultures across land and sea. 

Voice Recording   Tracy Dusabimana – Who is Water to me?

When Amazi has been codified as a ‘natural resource’ to be used, abused, and exploited for capitalist gain. It is important for us as people of the global majority to remember our practices and connections and to reconnect to Amazi as more than just the element flowing in the distant. It is important to remember that it is a life force – both through birthing and taking of life. It is important to remember its complexities and be in its presence, as it holds memories of lives once lived. 

Voice Recording   Hanan Thibeh – Who is Water to me?

Lee Maracle writes, “I had struggled with the Ojibway concept of humility—humbling ourselves to water—until this moment. I understand this. I understood myself so much more completely than at any other moment in my life. So much of my work has been focused on water, but it never occurred to me that I should humble myself to it. I have always cherished the memory of water, the ocean, the life-giving force, and I have tried to be respectful, but until you truly humble yourself to water, you cannot appreciate its magnificence, nor respect life itself.” (Maracle, 2016)

As I have come to understand Amazi as a Being and begin to humble myself before it, I begin to understand that it too is exploited by the same systems exploiting its people. I have come to relate to Amazi as a relation, as kin, and as a life force. Sitting at the water’s edge and sharing in its abundant energy. Every time I commune with Amazi and take a sip of its refreshing energy, I begin to understand all over again that my well-being is connected to the well-being of Amazi. 

Dear reader, 

Included in this essay are four voice notes from close friends and family. I asked them the question “Who is Water?” and “What is your relationship to Water?” And with these prompts, they recorded personal connections and understandings of water.  

As an essayist, it is important to me to centre personal narratives and stories as these are sites for learning and connection. In the spirit of TRAD magazine’s publication intention to “restore and renew our peoples’ tradition,” hearing stories from people across the African diaspora is an important step for renewal and restoration. Remembering our traditions with water and reflecting on our connections to water is one such step. 

Always with love and care, 

Celine Isimbi