Land of contrasts

Dear Family and Friends,

The saying it never rains but it pours, was never more true than this week. After another round of scorching temperatures, punishing water shortages and bone dry days, a storm brewed up very rapidly early one evening. Very strong winds were followed by a spectacular half hour of continuous sheet and forked lightning and then the heavens opened.

Fifty millimetres (two inches) of rain pounded down in an hour and a half over areas of Mashonaland East and left us like drowned rats floating on the detritus. Areas of Harare had 80 millimetres in an hour and huge pine trees fell like matchsticks in many places.

I thought I’d had it bad when about two litres of rain streamed in through a hole in my roof soaking everything in its splash range below. It was nothing compared to a neighbour whose roof leak caught 20 litres of rain – it was like someone left the tap running he said. We both laughed at the insanity of that comparison because our taps only ever have water for a couple of hours a day if we’re lucky as our town continues to suffocate in a never ending water crisis.

It’s a crisis that has crippled most towns and cities around the country despite donors providing all the water treatment chemicals and almost three years of opposition control of town councils. The municipalities give more excuses than you can shake a stick at, none of which help alleviate the toil of finding, collecting and carrying water all the time, or reducing the fear of disease.

A number of people in my immediate neighbourhood have been collecting water for weeks from an open and unprotected shallow well they have dug in a patch of open ground near a local cemetery. They had their water supplies disconnected by the local municipality because they couldn’t afford to pay large backdated accounts, which went back to early 2009 when we converted to trading in US dollars. The amounts owing by residential households range from $50 – $500 and leave people with no choice but to risk disease and collect water wherever they find it.

The last water-borne disease tragedy to hit Zimbabwe was an horrific cholera epidemic in 2008 which killed over 4000 people. This year the disease fear is typhoid. The Harare City Council this week said they were “talking numbers in excess of 500 cases” in the capital alone. Their spokesman said shallow wells and boreholes in unsuitable places were the main carriers of typhoid.

Messages are being sent out by one mobile phone service provider alerting people to the spread of typhoid through contaminated food and water and advising people with fever, stomach pains and diarrhoea to get medical treatment immediately.

The morning after the storm the roads in my neighbourhood had been scoured. Thick beds of sand blanketed corners, dips and the bottoms of hills. Potholes and gullies not filled or patched, let alone even inspected for over five years, tripled in size and depth overnight.

What should have been simple, routine road maintenance has been ignored for so many years that it will now need heavy machinery and vast amounts of money to restore basic suburban roads.

Closer to home casualties of the storm lay in the form of carpets of flying ants, countless drowned earth worms and curled up, water-logged sausage flies. A veritable explosion of Tsongololos (millipedes) emerged. Flooded out of their hiding places, they were drying out on rocks, logs and sandy patches everywhere.

Hard at work were numerous birds whose nests had been damaged in the storm. Weavers, Flycatchers and Manikins worked tirelessly, flitting backwards and forwards with strips of grass, fluffy seeds and strands of papyrus. The best sight was that of a gorgeous Plum-coloured Starling carrying bunches of soft green Musasa leaves to re-line its nest in a toilet stack pipe. Such beauty in such an ugly venue, a familiar Zimbabwean contrast.

Until next time, thanks for reading, Ndini shamwari yenyu.

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