The sky is falling!

Dear Family and Friends,

The chat in the queue at a government hospital Outpatients department this week was about the searing heat that has been beating down on the country in the last few days. The extremely high temperatures scorching Zimbabwe have been the national talking point as day after day we’ve looked up into dazzling blue skies without even a wisp of cloud.

One woman in the hospital queue said that God must have dropped the sun, letting it fall down lower in the sky. People laughed and her words made me think of Chicken Licken, Turkey Lurkey and all their mates who were sure the sky was falling in! Someone else in the hospital queue said that this heat was a sign from the ancestors: a warning of something, although no one volunteered what. The dreaded word on everyone’s lips is ‘drought.’ Memories of hunger and starvation are still very fresh in our minds, although the hunger in our recent past was caused more by political mis-governance and negligence than by weather.

This October is hotter than most people can ever remember. Many higher areas of the country, which usually have milder climates, have been recording minimum overnight temperatures of 27 degrees and midday temperatures of 37 degrees Celsius. Too hot to walk outside barefoot, in fact, too hot to be outside, let alone to be walking. In the drier lowveld areas temperatures have been hitting the high 40’s for a number of days. According to the Meteorology department, temperatures like this have not been recorded for almost 50 years, last seen in October 1962. Even sleeping in this heat is a problem, too hot even for a sheet. The nights are made considerably worse by clouds of whining, niggling mosquitoes desperate for just one little mouthful of blood.

Exacerbating our rising tempers in the searing heat has been the crisis with water. In urban areas in many towns and cities it has become normal to have no water for days at a time; you are very lucky if you have water for an hour or two a day and it is very unusual to have a continuous supply. Morning, noon and night people are trudging with water containers to the nearest stream, borehole or open well.

Handpumps on boreholes sunk by NGO’s in many small towns and congested residential areas last year are always surrounded by people waiting for their turn to fill a container. Wheelbarrows, handcarts and even pick up trucks loaded with small containers and huge drums all join the water queue. They have now become such a familiar sight that no one gives them a second glance. It’s hard to believe this is urban Zimbabwe in 2011. In some parts of Harare where residents have gone for over three weeks without water, fights have broken out and people queue day and night at the handpumps.

Travelling to an eastern town this week, both the heat and the water shortages were common denominators. A shimmering mirage danced on the tarmac and I looked for something to take my mind off the heat. First I saw two oxen hitched to a cart standing under the shade of a tree.

Beasts with huge curved horns their tails flicked incessantly at flies and they were accompanied by two young men. One lay flat on his back in the shade of the tree while the other did all the work. He was busy unloading dozens of empty blue plastic beet crates filled with empty brown beer bottles called Scuds. The beer crates were being piled up on the side of the highway, waiting to be collected and replaced with full ones by the brewery truck. On the road a steady stream of four wheel drive vehicles went past, watched by two oxen and their burden of beer bottles.

Minutes later another sight caught my eye and helped take my mind off the scorching heat. I saw four little Vervet Monekys running through the short burnt grass towards the road. Two scampered across the tar, the third hesitated before deciding on a very fast dash in front of my approaching vehicle. And the fourth, which I felt sure I was going to run over, turned a head over heels somersault right on the edge of the tar and sat staring at me, looking dazed and bemused; as surprised as I was that it had been able to stop in time.

What a land of contrasts! Until next time, thanks for reading, Ndini shamwari yenyu.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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