Cleaning the Well
November 10, 2007
The first Monday of June came like a fever; everyone was preparing for the cleaning of the well that provided cool water through the year. It was a glorious ritual, a way of life. No one could miss it.
My father was dressed in a special waterproof outfit. He was to be lowered into the well in a basket made of wood strips, attached to a strong sailor’s rope.
“Aren’t you scared of being at the bottom of the dark well?” I asked him every time he went down.
“No, I’m the founder of this well, and no one does it better than me”.
The process took about six hours while my father bailed out the crud from the bottom with an ordinary bucket. The men, standing around the well, dragged the bucket up, poured out the water on the ground and guided the empty one back down to my father. Up and down, up and down —hundreds of times. Finally the job was done; the well was locked for three days until the new spring water pushed its way through the ground. At the beginning the water was cloudy, but gradually it became transparent, clear as a crystal, ready for use.
After that, it was time to celebrate the long-awaited event. The tables were set in the front yard, and they moaned under the weight of the numerous dishes prepared by the women. Every hostess wanted to show her superiority in her pot-luck cooking. Champagne, hissing joyfully and making bubbles, was poured into the glasses. The feast began.
I remember with delight a comfortable and lively atmosphere that reigned outdoors. The dusk came, and an accordion player began to play familiar soulful tunes. The soft voices joined him, and the popular melodies floated around slowly, fading out in the starry night. Then there were dances and an exchange of rumours around the village. The kids jumped and ran in the puddles in the street; the dogs, like beggars, begged for a scrap from the tables; the tiny spiders, the size of peas, bright-red, like drops of blood, dashed towards the street-lamp.
I could hear the cry of night-birds, the cracking of frogs far away on the river and the rustle of leaves on the trees. The drunken scent of blossoming lilac, jasmine, and lime-tree spread in the night air, making my head spin.
The celebration of cleaning the well lasted till the next morning opened his eyes. After the exhausted but happy people had gone home, my father painted the well and two benches around it a light green colour. He fastened a big new mug and a pail on a miniature metal chain to the well. He was proud of what he had accomplished. I looked at him as my hero.
Nowadays, nobody cleans wells; however, in my home village, this tradition is saved and repeated every summer. For my community and I, there is nothing more amazing and sacred than the custom of cleaning the well, where one can have a cool fresh drink and rest on the bench in the shadow of cherry trees.