VIRUS DIARY: Staving off the virus while our water runs out

International

In this April 15, 2020, photo, AP photojournalist Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi approaches a police roadblock in his car in Harare, Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — I know we’re meant to be washing our hands frequently. We’re trying. But we’re running out of water again and I don’t know when the water truck is going to be back.

Queuing and crowding for food was a daily chore even before the coronavirus. It’s worse now. Social distancing is a luxury.

Our economy is broken. Only Nicolas Maduro’s Venezuela has a higher inflation rate than us. We’ve had critical shortages of water, food, gas, cash. We thought things couldn’t get worse. The virus saw to that.

Water is my biggest concern. It’s usually delivered on a truck by a private company. The municipal water system has been dilapidated for years. We might get municipal water out of a tap at home once or twice a week if we strike it lucky. Mostly, when I turn on a tap it gurgles, spurts some muddy-colored liquid for a few seconds, then stops. My kids won’t be washing their hands in that.

Jeffrey is my water guy. My delivery time is Friday afternoons. I pay Jeffrey, he pumps 5,000 liters from the tanks on his truck into the one I installed at my house and we’re good for another week.

Jeffrey doesn’t arrive every Friday now. The trucks are being stopped at lockdown roadblocks.

When Jeffrey doesn’t show, I go to Plan B. A friend has a borehole to access groundwater in his yard. I call him and go round. At the gate, I yell. He answers, passes his hosepipe over the fence. I fill as many containers as I’ve managed to fit in my car. I don’t even see Kuda. Haven’t for a while. We just talk over the fence and laugh at what we’re doing. Then I’m off home with tomorrow’s showers and laundry water slopping around on the back seat.

At work, I document the food queues, one of many elements constraining the lives of harried Zimbabweans. There’s been little change in attitudes, even with the threat of the virus hanging over every line. If anything, the people pack tighter, more afraid of missing out on food.

A cough here at the front of the queue. A sneeze there at the back. Heads snap to see who it came from. Sometimes people demand the guilty party leave the queue. They never do. The expressions on faces are a mix of concern and determination, with eyes narrowed, that this day’s queuing won’t be in vain. The faces are clearly visible because hardly anyone wears masks. In the ongoing quest for overpriced bread and milk, who has money for masks?

I do have personal protective equipment. But I can’t avoid the queues forever. I sometimes think, “What groceries do we need at home? Damn, I should be in that queue.” But I’m working.

Even in my car, I’m uneasy. Roadblocks are plentiful — one thing that is. Police or soldiers want to know what I’m doing, where I’m going. They leer in through the window. I explain, like I’ve done nearly every day since our lockdown began. But I’m really doing some kind of impossible mental calculation about how much of their saliva landed in my car, or on me, when they barked out that question. I’ve now taken to rolling up the window more. It’s a balancing act. How much is enough to protect myself without angering them?

There are brighter moments — the extra intimacy with family. I have three children. My eldest son is 16 this year. We’re starting to talk in the evenings about what he wants to do after school. Maybe a future in agriculture. He’s fascinated by aeroponic farming. Growing plants in air. It suits our water situation.

Talking about his future reassures me that there will be one. When we’re done, I go and check how much water we have left in the tank.

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“Virus Diary,” an occasional feature, showcases the coronavirus saga through the eyes of Associated Press journalists around the world. Follow Zimbabwe AP photojournalist Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi at http://twitter.com/tmukwazhi

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