Posted by: Isaac Bruce | June 30, 2011

Ghana: Bagged Water

[The original post has been edited to suit the time and audience. You can read the original piece at ]       

So finally, I give up holding on to this wonderful blog post by a friend on sachet bags in Ghana. I will probably not get more than 100 words analyzing sachet water bags and whatever ecstasy surrounding it. Mark Moxon’s travel writing has seen Mark develop a weird theory on sachet water in Ghana. The reason why I love this post is the unusual use of words to paint a strong picture and evoking experiences on sachet water. If you have drunk water from a sachet bag in Ghana, I bet you might have a better theory to Mark’s.

In Ghana the bag drink takes on a whole new significance, as even the water is sold in bags. In Senegal and Mali bagged water is also very much available. This means you’re stuck with buying bottles of mineral water (or, in bigger cities, cheaper bags of mineral water) which pushes up the daily cost a lot; a bottle of water in the desert will set you back around CFA 1000, or just under £1, which is fair enough when you consider it’s mineral water and this is the desert, but given the amount of water you have to drink in the heat, it’s a significant cost. In Ghana, though, it’s a different story.

Sure, you can still buy bottles of mineral water (though at half the price of Mali) and sachet bags of chilled water (known as ‘iced water’), but absolutely everywhere on every street you will find either someone with an ice box, or a child with a basket stuffed with chilled bags of purified water. ‘Ice water, pure water, and you too can be the proud owner of a 500ml bag of pure, water. It’s not mineral water – it’s just normal water that’s been filtered and treated with ultraviolet light or ozone – but it’s cheap, it’s safe, and it’s wonderfully refreshing necking a bag of cold water in the tropical heat.

The bags themselves are interesting too. Printed with the brand name, the chemical composition of the water and some marketing blurb about how wonderful it is to drink purified water, these square sachets of see-through plastic are full to the brim with water, making the bags feel like chilled silicone breast implants. Indeed, there’s something decidedly symbolic about the whole thing; everywhere you look there are people suckling on corners of these little bags, and once you’ve tried it, you can see that there’s something deep-seated in the comfort that it brings. I’m no psychologist, but I’m sure Freud would have had something to say about the bag drinkers of West Africa.

Indeed, I have a theory and my theory is that bagged water is somewhat Ghana’s addiction. In the Sahel, cigarettes are everywhere, and when the bus stops you see plenty of people with cigarette packets stacked on their heads; in Ghana, bags of water appear on every street corner, and my theory is that because bags of water are so cheap, and because everyone uses them all the time for drinking, they’ve replaced cigarettes as a way of getting comfort. And that’s where Freud comes in; there’s something curiously relaxing about suckling on bagged water, and where in Mali you’d see people dragging on a Dunhill, in Ghana you’re more likely to see people necking purified water.

It’s a nice theory, but I doubt it holds much aieece-wata-peeya-wata..


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