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The Tank that never runs dry
By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
Jun 21, 2010, 14:28
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Water is life, they say; but to the people of Portuguese Town in Constituency 109 in central Freetown its more than that.

Life ends sooner or later, water doesnt. Likewise the Portuguese Town community, whose continuity is defined by water that comes from a natural well nicknamed by the inhabitants as Tank. From a community of a handful people in the early 1900s, to one that now includes the ever growing neighbourhoods of Benjamin Lane, Fergusson Street, Cannon Street, Peter Lane, Edward Lane, Pratt Lane and even beyond Tank has never run dry. It is said that Tank was once a major source of water for the Maximum Security Prison along Pademba Road.

Built in 1916 by early Portuguese settlers, Tank sits at an angle between Fergusson Street and Benjamin Lane in an area called Valley View. Management of Tank has changed from one hand to another over the last six decades, but one person has been singled out as an exemplary caretaker. His name is Pa Bob Coker, and though hes being long dead his memory still lingers in the hearts of elders of the community.

"Pa Bob is the best caretaker (of Tank) weve ever had," said Mama Wilson, who came to live in the neighbourhood in 1942. "We used to call him German Boy because of his big feet, but in his days Tank was well managed, clean and tidy. There was law and order in the use of Tank.

However, today, as the population in the surrounding communities explodes, concerns have been raised over the use of Tank and the community elders are apparently not happy.

Currently managed by youths in the area that have formed themselves into an organisation called Portuguese Town Cultural Development Union (PTCDU), the deteriorating condition of Tank has attracted the attention of the Freetown City Council through locally elected representatives.

Consequently, on Thursday, 17th June, 2010, his Worship the Mayor of Freetown, Mr. Herbert George Williams, was at the site to officially declare the start of a project that will see the rehabilitation of Tank to meet the demands of the growing communities that depend on it.

The project, put together by a young engineer who started fetching water from Tank since age nine, will be completed in two months time.

"Since I started fetching water from the tank I promised myself that one day Ill do something to develop it," said Elder Samura, who now resides at Tengbeh Town.

The project will begin with a demolition of the structure housing the water well, followed by the construction of a retaining wall to prevent the water slipping underground. Pumps will be connected to the main source, putting an end to the usual bailing of the well water using cups, bowls and buckets. A roof will also be constructed to protect the water from falling debris and birds excreta.

According to engineer Samura, the Guma Valley Water Company/SALWACO will treat the water regularly to ensure its purity at all times.

Access to pipe borne water generally is a huge problem in Sierra Leone. The water dam that served about 250, 000 people decades ago is the same dam that attempts to satisfy the quench of about 2.5 million Freetown inhabitants currently.

However, the current government is working on plans to construct several water dams in various areas in the capital city to lessen the burden on the Guma Valley dam.

Where water comes naturally, as the case with Tank, the Acting Deputy Mayor of Freetown, Councillor Sam F. Gibson, said the FCC will intervene promptly to manage and improve on it so that it will serve the respective communities efficiently.

Speaking at the ceremony to commission the commencement of the project held in front of the famous Tank, Mayor Williams said the project will provide jobs for area youths, albeit temporarily. He said the youths must therefore take ownership of the project and ensure its proper management.

He stressed that funding for the project comes from local tax monies collected by FCC on a yearly basis. He encouraged citizens to pay their local taxes which he said is vital to funding community projects like this one.

"As a government and Council we are ready to work for the people," said the Mayor, who grew up in the area and also benefited from Tank.

Adjacent to Tank, another structure is under construction. Also funded by FCC, it will serve as the administrative office of the PTCDU and a room will be reserved as a store.

"We are happy for this development taking place in our area and well ensure we manage it well," said Mohamed Sorie Mansaray, Chairman of PTCDU.

Myth

Apart from serving humans, Tank is also an aquarium and its fish are sacred. The elders believe anybody who attempts to catch its variety of fish will face the wrath of the supernatural owner, a devil they called Show Boy.

According to one elder, Mr. Jackie Santigie Sesay aka Jacko, Show Boy is so named because whenever it decides to go shopping it dresses very cute.

"Sometimes he goes out as a man, other times as a woman," said Jacko.


© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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