Thursday, December 04, 2008

Daily life in Zimbabwe

This account describes the daily life of Moses Mudzwiti - an ordinary Zimbabwean. If you prefer, you can read it within its original context of The Times newspaper. This, ladies and gentleman, is some people's reality. Aren't you glad you don't have to try to do your job under such circumstances? Hat tip to Jeremy Nell for the link. (Oh, and please note that a 'madam' in southern Africa is not a brothel keeper but the woman who employs domestic staff).

MY days don’t begin because they never end — life in Harare has become one endless chase. Around the clock most of us in Zimbabwe’s capital are chasing after something.

Like my countrymen, I have honed my search-and-find skills. With an ear to the ground, I am ever ready to rush to where it is at. Sometimes my wife, Nyarai, and I make a quick 30km dash just to buy fresh milk.

All it takes is a phone call. There is always something available in limited quantities somewhere. All you have to do is stay on your toes. Ice cream, yoghurt, bread and butter can all be found at reasonable prices if you are connected.

Otherwise, the only other place to buy groceries is the local Spar, where prices are three times the norm elsewhere in the world. Besides, they only accept the rand, British pounds and US dollars.

But lately it’s fresh water we are chasing in Harare.

Nearly every second car has some huge water tank at the back. Even sedans are doing their bit. Everyone seems to be carrying water from one part of town to another.

The other day I hooted at the car in front of me and flagged the driver down. I thought his car was leaking fuel. It turned out it was water dripping from his boot.

Like most of the northern suburbs, Highlands, where I live, has not had a drop of state-provided tap water for more than four months. The taps that are running are fed by boreholes.

Somehow these once serene suburbs have turned into giant villages. Other than the presence of traditional chiefs, most people live exactly the same way they would in rural areas — without electricity and running water.

Many of the former “madams” in suburban Harare collect firewood and cook on open fires, just as their great-grandmothers did.

Regular power cuts have made cooking on an electric stove a distant dream.

Zimbabwean city women have even learnt to carry huge water containers on their heads.

If it wasn’t so awful we would laugh at how the passing years have turned back the hands of time. The lack of water has exacerbated the devastating cholera outbreak, which has killed more than 400 people in just a month.

Just like in the movie Hotel Rwanda, we have turned our swimming pool into a water reservoir.

In the movie, desperate people sought refuge at a hotel during Rwanda’s genocide. They ended up using water from the swimming pool when their taps ran dry.

The water crisis in Zimbabwe has taught us to control our bowels more effectively as well. Otherwise, one has to make countless trips to the swimming pool to fetch water with a bucket.

As for bathing habits, anything goes. From using the same bath water more than once to cleaning up with a moist towel. After all, we can’t give up the only one we have left — dignity comes with personal hygiene.

Like many Zimbabweans, my family and I have learnt to cope with our miserable existence. We cannot even afford to sleep.

The power generally comes back in the night, so most chores have to be done then.

Simple things like checking e- mails and watching television are major achievements when completed successfully.

I cannot remember the last time I watched a football match to the end because invariably, the power cuts out at some point.

When I first arrived from South Africa in the middle of the year, I thought my PC had packed up because it kept switching off.

The lights were turned on, but when my wife couldn’t get her expensive microwave oven to function we knew the power supply was dodgy.

Sometimes the electricity voltage supplied is so, low electric bulbs remain dim.

The later it is, the stronger the current, which is why Nyarai does her laundry and baking late at night.

Though we have a state-of-the- art generator, fuel is too expensive for us to be able to afford constant use. At R10 a litre, petrol is certainly not cheap.

The only liquid that has enjoyed an astronomical rise in price in Harare is water. A woman in Southerton, another suburb, was this week doing brisk business selling water for R2 a litre.

Our family borehole, which only works with electricity, has become the centre of our survival.

At night we fill up containers and distribute water to our many less fortunate relatives.

Now and again we also have relatives coming over to have a bath.

Our dinner conversations inevitably steer towards how badly President Robert Mugabe’ s government is running Zimbabwe.

Many times we reminisce how “Zimbabwe ruined Rhodesia”.

Luckily for now, we can still have dinner and a glass of water after.

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