“So why do they call them elephant pumps?” I asked Precious, as I stand in front of an aqua blue round concrete that comes up as high as my head. To each side are handles and in front of me is a protruding pipe.
Precious Matarutse, 24, has worked for MSF for a year in implementing water sanitation programs and her positive and enthusiastic attitude are still indomitable. As long as she is out with communities helping people nothing is hard for her, “just don’t put me behind a desk,” she tells me laughing.
Now she smiles and asks me to step a little back from the pump. “You see on the ground the round formations where people stand to turn the handles are like elephant ears and then under the faucet there is a small trench which is like the snout. She’s right, it does look like an elephant!
MSF has constructed close to 30 of these elephant pumps in two areas around Zimbabwe’s capital. Precious and I are now in Mabvuku Tafara, a township of about 150,000 people. “Some parts have not had water for over a year,” says Precious as we drive through the township checking on each pump that MSF has constructed here.
We get to one site where there is a long line of people waiting with buckets and jerry cans of all colors, blue, green, yellow. It is next to a now defunct pottery factory and that is why they call it the Pottery Pump. We get out of our minivan and a 4-year old little girl wearing a short white dress comes up to me to touch my white skin and everyone laughs. She runs away.
Mr. Cleopas Kajekere, a man who lives near the pump has assumed the responsibility for its care. “This pump works 24-hours a day,” he tells me as he looks on at the waiting line. “Maybe at least 5 a day.” I wonder what he means by 5, and then he clarifies “yes about 5,000 people come to fetch water a day.” The queue is endless since, once some people go with their clean water, more replace them in the line.
After Precious talks to the chlorinator teams, we jump into the minivan and head for the next MSF station. “What does Mavuku Tafara mean?” I ask as we jostle over dirt roads of the township. “We are rejoicing,” replies our driver absently; his attention is diverted as he tries to go through a river flowing down one of the township’s main dirt roads. I turn my head and look out the window and I gasp at the stench that hits me. The river that is flowing is sewage. I quickly cover my face; it is unbearable. But all around people are walking, kids playing, small shops with men loitering outside right at the edge of the river. I get out to take a photo, but it is hard to breathe, I cover my mouth and nose with a scarf. A man comes over to me and we both stare at the river of raw sewage. “How long has it been like this?” I ask my voice muffled through the scarf. “Since August.” “Since August?!” I cry aghast. “Aa,” says the man calmly, “this won’t be fixed anytime soon.”