By checking on their cholera treatment center in Chiwardizo clinic in Bindura (about 88 kilometers northeast of Harare), MSF teams found a new spike in cases on February 22, with 65 people admitted and the numbers rising rapidly. I went to visit Chiwardizo for a couple of days soon afterwards.
The patio of Chiwaridzo clinic, in the north-eastern city of Bindura, is filled up with cholera cases from a community called Kingston Farm. The local health authorities plan to go there and I ask if I can go along with them. “Aa, no problem we will come just now to pick you up.”
They then all get in a white pick-up truck and drive off leaving me standing in the clinic’s patio; I wonder if they will come back or just blow me off. It is midday and excruciating hot. I realize that they must have gone off for lunch. I join Nick, our water and sanitation expert, in the back of our car where we are at least shaded from the blinding sun. We munch on some snack food, chat and drink warm chlorine-treated water from our tank. Tana, an MSF Environmental Officer and part of our Emergency Team, comes over to get something to drink. I ask how things are in the camp; ‘it’s TOO hot!’ she complains and also says that proper cleaning and disinfecting needs to be done to the camp. She mentions that especially in the left corner there is a terrible smell emanating from something.
Just as I was thinking that the health officials weren’t coming back to pick me up they show up and back up their pick-up truck towards the camp entrance. ‘What you think their doing?’ I ask as Nick and I both peer around the side of our open back door. ‘I don’t know, loading up supplies I suppose,’ says Nick. I get off our car and walk over while shading my eyes. Then I see them carrying out an elongated object wrapped in black plastic sheeting. It takes me a moment to realize that it is a corpse. Somebody standing beside me says what a shame they had left the body there all day behind the tent in this heat.
The local men stash the body in the back of the pick-up and wave to me to join them. I feel rather queasy getting in the car with the corpse in the back, but we all pile in and set off. There are three of us squished in the back and the man in dark olive work suit next to me is reeking powerful chlorine fumes. Introductions are made all around and I realize that my immediate neighbour is actually the undertaker. I roll down the window even further.
We ride out into the countryside. Since it is the hot rainy season everything is green and overflowing. I have never seen grass so tall, at places it is double the height of the car and it feels like we are swimming through it.
We stop at the deceased’s village. Yellow-ochre round mud huts topped with conical thatching surrounded by soya crops. I find out the deceased is an old lady who does not have relatives to take care of her burial. As we dive through more tall grass I wonder at this life that has passed away, who she was, what her worries were, what her joys. How many lives have been taken by this bacterium scourging this beautiful land?
Suddenly one of the young men who jumped onto the back of our car earlier to help with the burial, slaps the side of the truck. I wonder if something fell off, but then realize that there is a small little track off the right of the road through trees and grass. I walk over with them and see a clearing surrounded by trees while a carpet of orange flowers spreads out beneath. It is very peaceful. A nice place to be laid to rest.