By SAM PHIRI –
SEVENTY-four-year-old Fostina Bwalya sits weary in the early hours of a Wednesday morning outside her slapdash house in the busy and highly populated Misisi Township of Lusaka.
Less than five metres away from this woman’s doorstep; attached to other chain of shoddy housing structures commonly known as ‘Midadada,’ is a deafening noisy tavern with a communal toilet that releases a strong nose-pinching stench.
Users of this toilet are mainly the clients of this named tavern that serves opaque brew and other brands of strong spirits previously packed in banned sachets called ‘Tujilijili’ now in 150 millilitre bottles.
Men and women alike are seen seated on simple wooden benches outside this tavern, forming some sort of an arch in their sitting arrangement.
A cup made out of a 2.5 litre plastic container of opaque brew is passed round as each one of the bench-mates takes a sip.
These men and women would each take a reasonable number of sips and gulps while others observe the movement on the drinker’s throat so he or she does not take in more than anyone else before passing it over to the next person.
It is a unity of drinking purpose that would find some people seated on this bench and partaking of the beer without contributing a cent. Such is life!
Just in front of this same tavern, with its ever-open door of the stinking toilet that operates without running water, is another chain of business activities.
Merchandise like bony remains from the ‘chicken sharwama’ traders seems to be a good business.
Both cooked and roasted pieces of meat ranging from pork, goat, and chicken intestines rolled on trotters and chicken heads are openly sold here where fresh air is not known.
Under these trading makeshift tables, is a pool of stagnant putrid deep green water releasing its own disgusting odour.
In normal circumstances, this is supposed to be the drainage but it will never be because this waterway has been blocked by other settlers who have constructed their own dwellings on it.
Children and elderly persons alike who cannot get into these communal toilets because of the huge number of families against two pit latrines are seen messing up outside in the open, especially in the night.
What a mixture of disgusting odour in the air! Unclean toilet stench, opaque alcohol smells, stagnant water, smoke from the meat roasting and just that heavy humidity in this congested location would spin a stranger’s mind beyond comprehension.
This is what Ms Bwalya has lived with for a long time and life seems normal for her around the aforementioned description of a locality though one is able to tell that challenges overwhelm this woman as she is seen getting weary even before 10:00 hours.
In normal state of affairs, one would expect to find such a senior citizen well rested after a good rsleep overnight and at least looking much lively and brighter.
But this is not the case as her old and frail body would have already gotten the exhaustion during the very early morning hour’s when women exercise of fetching drinking water.
She has no children to talk about that can cushion her burden but depends on her little strength of enduring days.
“I had four children but three are dead and the only surviving one is that one (pointing at a seemingly ailing man in her house)
He is also very ill, as you can see” she says.
It may be unthinkable but reality has it that as old as she may be, she is compelled to wake up as early as 04:00 hours in the morning to go and queue up for the liquid of life at a communal tap about a kilometre from her house.
In fact, one wonders what kind of sleep this woman and many others have in view of the fact that there is almost a daily overnight noise pollution coming from this tavern which is just less than 10 metres away.
What actually separates her dwelling from the bar is a road in between.
Getting to fetch water is not only a challenge of distance but a huge risk, especially to women.
Unreported cases of rape and aggravated robbery are on the rise with some women confessing that reporting such cases would result into them losing their marriages.
“Who would accept a raped woman back in his house with the prevalence of HIV/AIDS? It is better you lose one thing than both your marriage and pride as a woman,” said one woman who preferred to remain anonymous.
It is apparent that these women seem to have no choice but face the risks and challenges as the lifestyle of most men who are supposed to be their husbands in this township is that which is non-productive. They rather prefer to bury their minds into alcohol and drug abuse.
From such a strenuous early morning challenges and risky duties, these women would not end at water fetching but would again assume the roles that in normal circumstances are supposed to be their husbands’.
They are seen rushing out to Soweto market and other places to purchase low-priced merchandise like vegetables, meat on bones (which is locally known as bonzo meat), tomatoes and chicken trotters for resale so that they may raise some amount to buy food for their children and even the husbands.
Now, since men in Misisi township are known for their retrogressive drinking habits that start as early as 06:00hours in the morning, while their wives are busy running up and about trying to make ends meet, the detrimental negative effect is seen in children who aimlessly wonder about in these unplanned settlements.
The vulgar language coming out of these toddlers is simply unthinkable. One would think that these children have been to school of insults.
Education for most of such children is not a prioritised matter by most of these parents whose main concern is putting some food on the table.
This is the very reason why Misisi township is allegedly known for having produced more immoral than productive youths.
Shockingly, this overpopulated township is seemingly still growing as people are seen to be using every bare piece of land for construction of a pit latrine and hasty dwelling.
Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company (LWSC) has, however, warned against people risking to sink shallow wells in this township.
It is alleged that the ground water is heavily contaminated because of the numerous pit latrines.
LWSC has since urged the township leadership to sensitise people on how they can easily get connected to the main water pipeline for their health and safety.
“We have a water pipe that runs through Misisi compound and we see no reason why people should continue suffering with the issue of clean and safe water.
What they need to do is simply come to our offices and apply for a connection and we will gladly help them do that,” LWSC public relations manager Topsy Sikalinga said.
Life in this township has its own stories that would make one wonder how people of old age and young ones manage to see the light of the following day with a lot of life hazards so visible.