Still I have Survived
By Emmanuel Howahowa (Malawi)
The coming in of the first rains always brought joy to us. When the rains were failing, we; - little boys and little girls from Chikoleka compound came out of our respective houses and converged under a big m'bawa tree. The m'bawa tree stood at the centre of our village. It was evergreen and it saved as a meeting point for all the village gatherings. Naked, we sang, danced, jumped and shouted while running around causing cacophony in the whole village. We enjoyed getting showered by the rains and throwing mud at one another; how we laughed when one slipped off and fell to the ground!
The celebration continued even when the rains stopped. Then we returned to the m'bawa and formed several groups and played phada as others wallowed in the muddy waters just like ducks. Our bodies could then get very cold and dirty with the mud. We played until dusk when light began to pave way for darkness and we could not see one another properly. Our parents could then call each one of us one by one until the whole group disappeared. Such was the jubilation that the first rains brought to us.
At home we were welcomed by whips from our angry mothers; whips in the buttocks, whips in legs, whips at the back and whips in the hands as they simultaneously shouted at us. Our parents had always warned us sternly not to play in the rains but it all fell on our deaf ears. They had told us on several occasions that playing in the rains causes malaria but we could not stop; the more they advised us, the more we played in the rains
That was three years ago. Today the sight of rain clouds just frightens me; I always rush home when I just see rain clouds. Today I don't need any body to tell me not to play in the rains, I just do it on my own. The rain itself just reminds me of my parents, my brothers Chipi, Peter and Daniel and my sister Ellen. Today, the rain showers take my memories back to that year.
This year rains had taken 'centuries’ to come. Farmers had cleared their fields on time but the rains could not fall. Small rivers could not withstand the scorching heat; they dried up. The Christmas for this year had been the dullest; we just remained at home, we could not move about. What used to happen usually was that Christmas came at a time farmers were weeding their fields. Then our parents could do a piece work in farms to get money for the new clothes and rice and meat. That time Christmas was incomplete without meat and rice. In the afternoon, after church service, they would buy us a bottle of Fanta that we moved around with for the whole day only to drain it in the evening. So this Christmas went without meat, without rice, without Fanta, without a new dress.
New year celebrations went as dull as Christmas. Still the ground remained dry and the sky had no any slightest sign of rains. A week later, prayers were held at m'bawa; Muslims, Catholics, Presbyterians, Adventists Pentecostals and Rastas held a joint service to ask the creator to be merciful to the earth and open the sky and pour the precious water on the dry land.
The elders of the village could not just sit down and hope that things could just improve on their own. The elders attributed the dry spell to the wrath of azimu. So they made their sacrifices; meat, nsima and beer and offered them at Nankhudwe mountain, the dense mountain that was believed to be the dwelling place for the ancestral spirit of the village. But things could not improve; the sky remained clear and the water levels in the few rivers that had survived continued to dwindle. The community remained hopeless.
The strong bond uniting us all together as a community was badly strained. This time we could not play as we used to do. We no longer gathered at m’bawa for mganda at night. We stopped going to church and school. One of the people to feel greatly the effect of drought was mum. Mama had to carry the burden of holding the family together. She always moved about at the trading centre doing piece work in rich people's houses at least to come home with a 'walk man' for us. Baba was nowhere to be seen. He, just like many men in our village had gone to town to look for job but months continued to pass since he had left.
This Wednesday had just been just like any other day; very hot with a clear atmosphere. Just abruptly, rain clouds gathered in the atmosphere in the afternoon. It did not take time before it began to pour down heavily. In seconds we swam at m'bawa in a jovial mood, naked. We sang and danced while running around the whole village, getting splashed with the rain waters in the process. The heavy rain was accompanied by strong winds but that could not prevent us from coming out of our houses.
The following day farmers were in the fields, planting their seeds. Those that had been so unlucky to have their roofs blown off were now repairing them. At least the community was now relieved that this could be the end of the dry spell. As for us we took the damage that had been done by the unusually heavy rains and the strong wind as all fun. We enjoyed throwing the mango fruits that had fallen down due to the heavy winds at one another. In the afternoon we went to the river to collect the sugarcanes which the water had abandoned along the banks. We made fire there and roasted bananas that had been brought by the water. We enjoyed the new freedom, the floods had given us. We played until dusk and headed for our respective homes; as usual whips were patiently waiting for us.
Three days later it began raining again; the cloud continued to hail down furiously. Our parents could not allow us to come out of our houses this time. The situation continued to worsen; walls of houses crumbled and roofs cascaded.
A week later, Shara river flooded it's back. The whole of our village was now surrounded by water; we had nowhere to run. There came a helicopter and soldiers could be seen at a distance. I remember we came out of our house; me on the shoulders of my brother Chipi while mum, Peter, Ellen and Daniel were walking on their own, holding each other’s hands. The water levels continued to rise
.......and then I just realised that am here at Namadidi LEA school with others who had just come out of the helicopter. I could not tell how I was found here. I remember feeling quite lost when I came here, all faces were new, I could not recognise any. As time passed we got used to the life here. When we first came here, all men were sleeping in one classroom block and women were also sleeping in another block. We children were put in a separate block.
As time passed we divided ourselves into several small families. Tents have been elected here and there is where we stay now. Those that were lucky to survive two or three from one family stay together here. As for me, I had no any relative so I stay with another woman; I call her mum. This woman says back home, she had a daughter named Lucy - my name sake. Mum says her Lucy was washed away by floods. Mum loves me so much. We also stay with Cosmass. Cosmass too doesn't know where his parents, brothers and sisters are. So we have been three in our family until four days ago when mum bought a new baby at the trading centre. She has named him Bashil. Bashil is as light skinned as a white man. I just don't know where she has got the money to buy the baby because back home elders used to tell us that babies are very expensive. They said they are bought in millions. Now we are struggling here, where will she get the napkins and porridge for Bashil? What about the shawl to wrap him? I don't even know who the father of Bashil is.
Our clothes here have become so tattered that they can accurately measure the direction of wind. The only clothes that I have to cover my body are one oversized T- shirt that Dedicated to Development Party (DDP) donated to us and a piece of chitenje that was distributed to us by Moses and Aaron at Mount Sinai synagogue ' women organisation
When the food is available we eat in groups. Men form their groups and women also sit in their groups. We little ones are also put in our groups. In the groups it is always hard to get food. Actually we don't wash hands, we just go straight into eating to avoid wasting time. When eating we don't mind to chew the food, we just swallow it to have a big portion in the shortest time. As a matter of fact, fights arising from scrambling for food are just the order of the day here; in the morning today, Mphatso fought with Mwayi over a plate of porridge. Just yesterday, a certain woman and her four children died after taking poisonous roots from the forest.
Last month Muslims came. They were celebrating one of their annual festivals. As part of the celebrations they paid us a visit. They brought with them rice and meat and sweet beer. So far the first time to have a taste of rice and meat since we came here. At home this meal was reserved for Christmas. In the afternoon we sang and danced to their hymns though we could not understand them.
We do not go to church here; churches are very far. We gather every Wednesday afternoon under a tree for prayers. We just come together regardless of our churches. There is a certain man who preaches to us. We just call him abusa. He has a torn copy of a bible that he reads the word of God from. When it comes to singing we just sing anything that sounds like a church hymn. There are no hymn books here.
Kingsley. We had our friend called Kingsley. King had a light skin like that of a white man. His hair was grey. We just called him 'mzungu' and we enjoyed playing with him. King was very good at 'Chipako' and nobody managed to catch him as we played. During masanje we little girls always fought to be 'mum' when King was 'dad'. Every girl wanted to be a wife to mzungu; nobody wanted to be a cook or granny. Yesterday here came four men from town. They came on a beautiful tinted car similar to that of our MP back home. The men came to take king to town. They say he will be staying with them in town. We cried to go with them but they refused. How I wish I was also a nzungu so that I would go to town and come out of the problems we are facing here. The men gave King's mother bundles of money as they left. We waved Kingsley bye.
I have known Linda here. Linda was in standard six the time she met the wrath of water. Linda has been teaching us: me, Maggie, Zione, Chisomo and Samson. We usually gather in the afternoon for our lessons. Linda doesn't have any books because all her books were washed away by the floods; she just teaches us from her head. There is no chalkboard here so we use charcoal to write on the ground. We call her madam Linda. There is progress so far; by now I have memorised the Multiplication Table from 1 to 12. Now I can recite the alphabet from A to Z and I can now correctly write all the vowels a, e, i, o, u.
We are still here at the evacuation centre. Life is becoming tougher by each passing day; we are just hopeless. To get food here is a real struggle, let alone clothes. My future now looks blank. I have always wanted to be a teacher just like madam Nyirenda. I liked it very much when madam Nyirenda stood in front of us, teaching us Mathematics in Standard 1B back home at Matika LEA School. I was determined to be like her one day but all that is now lost as I no longer go to school.
Today, every rainy season takes my mind back to three years ago. Today, the sound of a thunder and the rain itself just reminds me of my parents and my brothers and sisters. When I see an aeroplane today my mind goes back to the military helicopter that rescued us from the harsh floods. Previously when we saw an aeroplane we raised our hands up, waving at the aeroplane in the sky and shouted; extend my greetings to uncle!, to cousin! and to grandmother! But when I see it today flying in the sky, tears flood in my eyes.
All in all, it hasn't been an easy road for us to reach this far. We have gone through thick and thin. My parents, brothers and sisters have all been washed away by the merciless floods and still others have died here of hunger, poisonous foods and other diseases. My future now looks hopeless. But in everything I just thank God that I have reached this far. For me, it remains a miracle to be here and narrate this story of what I have gone through. Still I have survived.
Phada: A game mostly played by children during rainy season
Azimu: ancestral spirits
Mganda: type of a traditional dance
Chitenje: a piece of cloth
Abusa: a pastor
Mzungu: a European