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the water? Stories from Bulawayo - Page 1
Phiri and Chumile Jamela, Kubatana.net
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A photo essay
of Bulawayo residents and their daily experiences with water shortages.
. . . you are a welcome visitor, until you ask to use the toilet
Take a walk
in the streets of Tshabalala on any given Wednesday and you see
the looks of dejection on the faces of the residents, because by
Wednesday residents have been without water for four consecutive
days. You see children, both boys and girls, some with small 2 litre
containers, others with 5 litres, while some balance 20 litre buckets
on their small heads as they move around the five boreholes in the
suburb to collect water. No longer will you see them kicking around
plastic balls on the streets after school. Now the boreholes have
become their playgrounds. When the miracle of water finally arrives
in Tshabalala, people frantically start filling up all available
containers including cooking pots. They rush to clean their loos
and do their laundry. They water their gardens at night, even though
the municipality has outlawed the practice. "We've become
night workers," says one resident. "If you don't
do it at night, you are going to wake up in the morning to find
dry taps and you will have to wait until Sunday for water."
Banda (aged 80) came to Zimbabwe in the 1960s from Malawi
for 'greener pastures' with her now deceased husband.
She is one of those old sweethearts who wax lyrical about the "good
old days," only too happy to reminisce about "how things
were better when we were growing up," a life story she gladly
tells anyone who will listen. She says they had five children but
all are deceased and she is left with grandchildren and great grandchildren
all of whom live elsewhere. She stays with lodgers, and since she
cannot go to the borehole by herself she has to rely on their benevolence
for water. "But they also have their own needs," she
says referring to her tenants who have a young child. When water
"finally arrives" she tries to stock up. She is old
school and knows Zimbabwe like the back of her hand. She says she
is disturbed by the water problems and "someone must have
done something for the rains to have disappeared in the country."
Sibanda (aged 60) has started clearing a strip of land
in the unused land between Tshabalala and Tshabalala Extension for
the planting season. The thunder and lightning that has threatened
Bulawayo since late October has been enough to get her worked up
about preparing the land to plant maize, and in her words "get
water in our dams." We're now into November, and there
is no sign of the coming of the rains, but she remains undaunted.
Meanwhile with the water shortages people are using her small strip
of land as an alfresco latrine. She says she doesn't even
want to describe the heaps of human shit she finds littered here.
The shit has almost persuaded her to abandon the whole enterprise
of tilling the land, but she says she cannot stop because, if the
heavens weep, it could mean she will get a bit of maize for mealie
meal. "You actually wonder at what time do these people go
and do this. When some of us are sleeping they are busy defecating
in our fields. Sometimes I wish I could put traps just to fix them
but I also realise that it's actually not their fault. It
is this water problem."
Dube (aged 36) is a vendor at Machipisa shopping centre.
There is a public toilet just behind his stall where he and a number
of women sell vegetables. The toilet hasn't been functioning
for years now and is under lock and key. But he says that this has
not stopped folks from shitting on the toilet's doorstep.
It is symbolic perhaps: the logic seems to be, "this is a
public toilet and we will shit here even if it is locked!"
There are a number of public toilets in the suburb but Dube says
none are functioning. The story is the same everywhere: they are
all littered with faecal matter outside their entrances. It is worse
for the vendors, he says, as the convenience of a public toilet
is no longer there and he has to rush home every time he wants to
answer the call of nature. "It has now become like a landline
(telephone). I can only answer the phone at home and nowhere else,"
Gondwe (aged 38) is a full-time mother. Hers is one of
two families who share a four-roomed house, which means the two
families share a single toilet. There are six children between the
two families. "It's just difficult to keep the toilet
clean. Some leave the toilet soiled because there is no water to
flush," Gondwe laments. These circumstances have raised tensions
in the house as each parent says they cannot clean the mess left
by another person's child. "It is difficult to tell
children not use water in buckets that belong to the other family,
and in any case it's just not right to tell these kids something
like that. It's like denying them food," says Gondwe.
While water experts are fond of saying that 21st century wars will
be fought over water, rather than oil, domestic water wars are already
being fought among Bulawayo families. "It's become a
tough life, but what can I do?" she says dejectedly.
Ngwenya (aged 29) is a cleaner at a cocktail bar. Folks
never seem to run out of cash, they have money to burn as they patronise
the joint everyday of the week and business is brisk. But this comes
at a price for Ngwenya. No running water for days on end means the
pub is also affected, and the laws of necessity have meant even
without running water, the pub still remains open. Just because
there isn't any water doesn't mean the patrons don't
shit, and Ngwenya knows this painful truth is a part of the job.
"It's a tough call anyway, expecting tipplers not to
piss or shit," he says rather grudgingly. He has even found
human waste on urinals after some drunk defecated where others piss.
"I wonder what time they do this," Ngwenya muses. I
jokingly suggest that maybe one patron stands guard by the door
to stop others from entering while his friend shits by the urinals?
He laughs: "That's possible."
anecdote: A story is told in this township about a chap
who was drinking at a shebeen. He asked to use the lavatory. Like
many homes here, the small toilet was crowded with drums and dishes
filled with water. The chap had this terrible runny tummy. He takes
forever in the loo as the belly cleans itself. When he thinks he
is done, he uses some of the water to flush the toilet, but the
belly rumbles again. He sits down again and the diarrhoea unleashes.
This repeats a number of times, and he keeps filling up the cistern
to flush. When he is done, he returns to the binge. The lady of
the house enters the loo and is greeted by what the Devil must smell
like. She checks the water containers and sees they are drained.
The party going in the house comes to an abrupt end, as she demands
to know who poured "her" water down the drain. Folks
who know point to the diarrhoea guy. "Get out, I don't
want to see you here again, get out," and the runny tummy
is barred from the shebeen. True story as told by the streets.
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