Connections #4 – Jerrycans

The fourth micro-essay of a series inspired by the photos of #EverydayNile, drawing connections among people, places, waters, and stories along the Nile river.

Jerrycans are a commonplace in pictures about water in Africa. Unless you are Aida Muluneh, it might be difficult to avoid picturing them on the shoulders of women or girls walking along a rural road. Such image has become a stereotype for poverty and backwardness associated to the African continent. Being part of the everyday in many African contexts, jerrycans are also featured in several #EverydayNile photos. Such yellow presence allows to establish a direct connection across different Nile countries and stories. It also recalls that access to water remains a problem even in proximity of the resource, being it a river, a lake, or groundwater.

One of the goals of EverydayNile was to re-picture the river beyond visual stereotypes and usual images. Have we achieved that in the case of the jerrycan? I have selected three photos that in my opinion contribute to re-picturing the jerrycan, by showing also the water they contain, in different forms and movements: rippling, flowing, splashing.

Photo by Guerchom Ndebo/Goma (Congo)

In the first photo, by  Guerchom Ndebo, the water ripples as someone sinks a jerrycan into Lac Vert, west of Goma city in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The dark rocks in the lower section of the photos indicate an outdoor and unprotected source of water. The ripples and the bubbles show the water flowing into and filling the jerrycan. The hand closed in a fist and holding the jerrycan suggests taking possession and control, recalling as well the physical labour and efforts this might take.   

Photo by Ding Magot/Juba (South Sudan)

In the second photo, by Ding Magot, a resident of Juba pours water from a jerrycan into a plastic basket. The water has been bought from the “drinking trucks” supplying South Sudan’s capital city. The houses in the background set a domestic context for this scene. The jerrycan has been modified in order to be used to pour water rather than to store it. The water neatly flows from the jerrycan to the basket, not one drop spills out: the legs standing beside the basket and the hand of the person holding the jerrycan suggest a presence of care and attention.

Photo by Roger Anis/Lake Tana (Ethiopia)

In the third photo, Roger Anis portrays a baptism on the shores of Lake Tana (Ethiopia), near one of the sources of the Nile. A priest of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church holds a traditional cross in his left hand, and a yellow jerrycan filled with the lake’s water with his right arm and hand. The priest pours the water onto the crouched believer, the water dashes on the cross and sprinkles all around the man’s naked torso, arms, and legs. The leafy background and the splash inspire abundance. The priest pours generously. There seems to be no concern for saving water. Closed eyes, holding the breath because of the cold water, the believer feels the refreshment and experience the meaning of water as carrier of (new) life.

Flowing in and out from these jerrycans, water fills them with new meanings and metaphors, beyond the stereotypical association with poverty: they evoke images of control, care, and even display water’s spiritual dimension.  

Connections is a series combining Emmanuel Iduma’s format of micro-essays elicited by sequences of photos, with #EverydayNile photo-stories. If you have enjoyed this micro-essay, I invite you to check also the first, second, and third posts of this series, as well as the rest of #EverydayNile photos and send me your Connections at

Cite this blog post
Emanuele Fantini (2023, August 31). Connections #4 – Jerrycans. FLOWs. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from

Emanuele Fantini

Emanuele (@emanufanti) is senior lecturer and researcher at the Water Governance Department of IHE Delft. Committed to public engagement and crossover projects with artists and journalists, Emanuele coordinates the project “Open Water Diplomacy. Media, science and transboundary cooperation in the Nile basin”, he hosts the podcasts “The Sources of the Nile”, “Water Alternatives Podcast”, and “Si dice acqua”, and he is the editor of IHE Delft Water Governance Blog, FLOWs.

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