“Coléra, coléra!!” shout little Zimbabwean kids running after our MSF minivan as it splashes through sewage soaked muddy roads in the high density Harare township of Dzivaresekwa (or Dziva or just Dizzy as some expats have started calling it). Revayi our driver laughs and puts the music up higher. He usually works his minivan as a combi (privately owned transport for locals). “What’s your name mean Revayi?” I ask him as I try to hold on in the back seat — all Zimbabwean names mean something. He says it means bad gossip, because his mother-in-law talked bad about his mother while she was pregnant so in revenge she named her son like that. Dominique turns around and we look at each other, both rather stunned with the explanation and not really knowing how to respond.
Photo: J Stavropoulou | The collapsing water and sanitation system in Zimbabwe has been one of the prime causes of the cholera epidemic in the country. People in Dzivaresekwa Extension don't have running water or electricity.
I change the subject and ask Dominique to tell me about his field of water sanitation and the project of trying to get safe and clean water to Harare’s most vulnerable residents. Dominique, French-Canadian, young and crazy obsessed with water. Any kind of water, dirty, clean, sewage — with dark thick hair and intense brows he gets easily carried away about his favorite subject.
He tells me how in this township of Dziva that we are going through they do actually have tap water, but because the system is so damaged, with pipes burst and pumps not functioning properly, that there is no pressure. This has allowed the sewage, which is running freely everywhere from its own bust and backed up pipes, to infiltrate the water system. People are literally drinking their own excrement. “We could smell the sewage in the tap water,” he says and as we splash through another open sewer in the street and the stench fills our minivan it is not very hard to imagine.
We stop at an MSF water point where our teams use a concentrated solution of chlorine to inject into people’s water buckets and thus disinfect the water. There are a lot of people walking around, kids (school has started again in Zim but there are no teachers), men and women (80% unemployment). Many try and sell anything, small cardboard boxes under rainbow colored umbrellas; mangoes, tomatoes, avocados.
Dominique is talking to the chlorinators. He is intense but he also laughs with them and they all want to know when he will be back to check on their work. I wander into a nearby house. People are always so friendly here in Zimbabwe. The people of this house come up to greet me and I ask them if they have problems with water. One of the men of this 9-people home (children, aunts, brothers) shows me their tap. It is dripping into a bucket and he says that is how the pressure has been since last year. He says they cannot wash things like blankets anymore, it would be impossible. “What about your toilet?” I ask. “Toilett?!” he cries in frustration, “it has been backed up for more than a year” he says. “Sometimes it overflows and we have to empty it with buckets.” He shows me the latrine. I look down into a dark greenish mass and I think my eyes are playing tricks on me, or the light is funny because it is almost as if it is moving, but it can’t be. I hold my breath and squint a little closer. Then, I jerk back in shocked disgust; it is a mass of thousands of maggots seething everywhere. I quickly exit.
I ask him if they have any money to get by. He sends one of the women into the house and she comes out with a pay slip. He wants to show me. He earns 13,742,381,818.1 Zim dollars a month. It looks like a lot on paper but unfortunately 13 trillion Zim dollars is less than 1 US$ today. Tomorrow, even less.
I thank the whole family, take some photos of the kids and to their absolute delight show them the result and rejoin Dominique.