Dry season in Harare

The on-going world cup has taken over my life for the last couple of weeks so, when there was a two-day match break I waited for the sun to get warm and then I came out to look at the garden. This is how these reflections were born.

Our house is located in a dry suburb of the city and, although over the years we have invested in sinking five boreholes (yes, five!!!), we have failed to find water. In addition to being a difficult area for underground water, I am told that the water table has gone even deeper with overuse. What’s more, the public water supply -very good in the 90s- has collapsed to the point that we only had one day of water last year! We also need to buy drinking water by the 20 litre container. However, there is optimism in the shape of the on-going water works that will hopefuly improve the situation.

Despite this drawback we are still convinced that this is a small problem compared with the assets that Harare and Zimbabwe bring to our lives! You just need to learn to live with it and find alternative solutions. In these situations I always recall a work colleague who, when we were going through a relief operation over a very severe flood crisis, said that when the official markets collapse, the informal ones take over in an amazingly short time. This is the case of the Harare water market.

Over the years of water shortage, many services have ben developed and perfected and are now on offer. Water diviners, borehole drillers, water pump sellers, experts on water volumes, drip irrigation, water tanks and piping are some of the services available. We can order our water by cellphone and it comes very fast as the competition is tough. You can even place a “water order” through the net!!! USD 100 buys you 10,500 litres (the 500 litres are a bonus for our loyalty!) that lasts us for about six weeks with rather careful use. We are six people in the house: two of us and our housekeeper and his family.

Water used for washing and showers is recycled in the garden. Believe me, this does not actually create great difficulties, apart from collecting the water from the basins into buckets that later go into the garden. We shower standing in basins and this water follows the same fate. While doing this, I always wonder what the world be like if all water-privileged people like us would do the same!!! I am sure that this sounds alien to many but it is basic to me and very doable.

As we like to grow our own veggies and keep alive some favourite plants, we also need to collect roof water during the rainy season that lasts roughly from November to March with about 800mm of rain fall. So, nylon tubes connect our gutters to the swimming pool that are normally rolled up but extended every time the first drops fall. The pool, once a pristine blue, now looks brown and hosts water plants and guppies, the latter to control the mosquito larvae. The water is too cold for swimming anyway…

The swimming pool is now our water reservoir.

The swimming pool is now our water reservoir.

Now it is back to me in the garden. As it is normal during June and July it is a chilly morning although not as cold as it will be in a few days when the prediction is for 5°C. I noticed that the garden is now almost totally brown, except for the vegetable garden that looks like a green oasis, almost dazzling! Brown is the dominant colour in most of Harare now, except for those houses that boast green lawns where drilling has yielded results. However, plants and animals are adapted to the dryness and they have accumulated nutrients to enable them to respond immediately to the first rains. I will tell you about this when it happens.

Leaves  from the msasa trees (Brachystegia spiciformis) rain on me, invaluable mulch for our soil that helps to keep the little humidity left. In contrast, the succulent plants, particularly the aloes, are thriving and even flowering! However, the real beauty I see is the yearly arrival of the birds, attracted by the bird baths and the seeds dished out to them in the garden. Two species appear around this time: the purplecrested louries (Tauraco porphyreolophus) and the blue waxbills also known as cordon blues (Uraeginthus angolensis).

They could not be more different! The former are rather large and green and blue with the purple crest that gives them their name, looking almost black under normal light. Often described as “furtive” while flying between trees flashing the most amazing crimson reflections of their primary wing feathers while in flight, being almost scary at dusk! At this time of the year they come to feed on the little red berries of the cotoneaster bushes (Cotoneaster spp.) that they cannot resist. They are so fond of them that they risk abandoning the security of the tree canopy to get at them. Unfortunately I have not been able to take a worthy picture as they are quite shy, mobile and difficult to approach. I will keep trying and post any decent picture I get.

The first blue waxbills in our garden.

The first blue waxbills in our garden.

The cordon blues, conversely, are tiny (12cm from tip of beak to tip of tail, the latter being about one third of the bird!) and as their name indicates, they have a pale sky blue face, breast and tail with brownish-grey upper parts. They start to come singly and pairs are formed. Later on there will be flocks walking through the dry grass in search of tiny grass seeds and some of them will nest among the papyrus in the garden only to move away at the onset of the rains.

While there is an increase in the bird population, other animals are now very hard to find as they resort to a quiet life until the warmer weather comes back. This is the case of Mr. Brown, our leopard tortoise  (Geochelone pardalis) who slows down during the winter dry months to re-emerge at the time of the rains. Although whether this can be defined as proper hibernation is debatable, a marked reduction in activity takes place and he is not visible for a while. Another species conspicuous for their absence now are the flap necked chameleons (Chamaeleo dilepis) that probably brumate (chameleon hybernation) or at least also -like Mr. Brown- slow down and become hard to find.

Chamaleon shedding its skin.

Chamaleon shedding its skin.

Although we still have a few weeks of cold weather, eventually it will get warmer and, if we are lucky, we will witness baby chameleons -tiny replicas of their parents- bursting out of the ground from the eggs buried in the ground by the females. We will wait, observe and report accordingly.


  1. At first, I thought the chameleon isn’t a real one. Yes, because it has perfect color! Such is the beauty of nature and your write-up. Was a delightful read.The blue waxbills are quite noteworthy as well!


    1. It is real and it lived with us in Maputo. It was “moulting”. Soon after we released in the bush as we thought that our garden would not be safe as there is a lot of beliefs on these animals here!!! Keep well.


      1. Wow! It seems you have a wealth of information about Africa wilderness. Eager to read more on them 🙂


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