Friday, January 16, 2015

Torrential Rains - Carole's Post

The rain began on Saturday.  It's the rainy season so it was hardly unexpected.  In fact, it seems to rain every day, though only for a short while and then we see the sun for much of the day.  The rains came late this year so the Malawians were grateful that their maize fields and gardens were receiving the much-needed water. The rains continued through the night and throughout Sunday, then all night and all day Monday.  When we would go to bed, we could hear the water pounding the pavement and the overflowing gutters.  We would wake up to the same sound and hear it all day long.  We managed to take the sisters shopping Monday morning but skipped the street market, which appeared to be dead anyway.  All afternoon we stayed inside.  Monday night, the rain still had not abated.  It was a hard, ferocious rain now accompanied by intense winds.  "Monsoon weather" we thought.  Every day we lost electricity or water for 12-15 hours.  "Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink" took on a new meaning.
We began to wonder that night about the members on Soche, high up on the hill.  
Tuesday morning we were glad we had a zone meeting so we could get out and feel like missionaries again.  Yet when we reached the Blantyre building and talked with the elders and sisters, we realized that there were some serious problems for the members though no one really had the details.  George headed out to check on the Nthenda family and I stayed behind though it was difficult to focus on the missionary presentations. 

When George called, I knew it wasn't good.  He came back to get me and we went home to quickly change into our jeans and practical shoes for the nastiness outside.  Then we headed for Manga where fortunately there is a paved road most of the way up the high hill where the Nthendas live. Only five days earlier I had gone to visit Sister Nthenda to see if I could help her with her upcoming Primary lesson.  

I had approached her house unannounced and found Sister Nthenda studying her Primary lesson along with daughter Towera and her brother-in-law Earnest.  We sat outside in the nice weather.

These are pictures of her house from an earlier visit.

However, when we parked the car, the Nthendas were no longer in their house because it looked like this.
The wind had picked up the roof and thrown it to the side.  
The "uncooked bricks" and mud mortar had come crashing down about 3:00 AM.  Fortunately, the Nthenda family escaped and managed to make their way to another partially finished home up the hill.  They tried to call us at 5:00 AM but we didn't hear the call.  By the time we arrived, they had salvaged most of their belongings and had carried them to the large unfinished nearby home.
The family, in addition to many we didn't know, were just sitting in silence when we arrived, but they had made plans to move in with Sister Nthenda's mother, about 6 kilometers away close to Limbe, and so we decided to start loading up. 
Brother Nthenda, who is a welder by trade, is in the aqua rain suit.
 He salvaged everything he possibly could.
George is loading up the truck for our first run.
I carried out a backpack and several totes.  One had a small teddy bear sticking out on top. Brother Nthenda sat in the back seat with daughter Towera and two nephews.

The road didn't look too bad at first though we saw much damage on the sides.

After seeing all the downed trees, George and I both commented on how it was not unlike Woodinville after a big storm.  However, there was no sound of chain saws.  In Malawi, it is manpower with machetes only.  The destruction of the houses and small shops was heartbreaking.
The further we drove, the worse the roads became, until both George and I were practically holding our breaths.  The rains had left many, many jagged rocks exposed in deep ditches that would traverse the roads.  At one point it felt like we were driving down a waterfall.  We eventually ended up in some open areas but the ground was so saturated it could not hold any more water.  This was the first stall.

It took about fifteen minutes to get us on our way again.

When we got about as far as we could drive, we unloaded and hiked across fields to get to our destination.

We passed many collapsed walls and displaced roofs.
Then it was back to the car for a second run.  We thought we would try another way to get out to avoid some of the more treacherous roads.  Unfortunately we hit soft dirt again.

This time it took about 45 minutes, bricks, rocks, a board, and lots of manpower which cost us some kwacha.  All I could think of was how we should have read the book entitled "OFF ROAD DRIVING" that our son-in-law Mike had sent us for Christmas!

When we got back to pick up the last load, we connected with four of the elders and Brother Banda, the elders quorum president, who had also made a run.  For the last load, we drove out together in the two trucks.  In the four loads, we had all their worldly possessions.

Once again, we tried to go another way.  Just as we rounded a corner, there was a stalled car ahead.  Hmmm, this helped to lighten everyone's mood, even Brother Nthenda.

Wow, all it needed was a little gas, right?

Actually, that didn't do the trick and the elders ended up pushing it back down the hill so we could get by.  

We carried the last of the Nthendas possessions to their new temporary home. 
We were assured that we could drive over the bridge below, but even the fearsome elders weren't that brave and we carried the items over.

It was in a complex of homes and that looked quite nice. However, inside, it was totally unfinished with a dirt floor and no electricity.  We took one photo of everyone who helped.
Sometimes, when you get up in the morning, you find the day just goes an entirely different direction that what was on the schedule. This was one of those days, but though we tried to stay positive and do what we could, nothing can make  up for the tragedy of losing one's house.  Our hearts go out to the Nthendas.

On the way back, we decided to go with the elders to check on another family, the Makawas in Chilobwe.  However, as we drove through the market, we could see that the low bridge was completely covered with water from the raging stream. The elders plowed through, but George and I knew we had tested fate a little too many times on the road that day and decided we would turn around and go back.  First, I jumped out to take some pictures.
As I took this photo, someone yelled at me "NO PHOTOS" and looked very angry, along with the people around him.  
I knew enough to quickly get back in the truck and turn around but I wondered why they were so exercised.  We later found out that a young mother had been swept away upstream and they were waiting for the body to come down.  Such sorrow..

The rains were record-breaking and the entire southern half of Malawi has been declared a disaster area.  At least 48 people have died, including the nephew of one of our branch members.  Tens of thousands have lost their homes and some villages have been completely wiped out.

The following day we went to check on some other members.
First we found the Makawa family living in another unfinished home.  There were three families that had moved in, each in a different room.

Brother and Sister Makawa, high up on Soche, lost their roof and had a wall come down exposing three rooms.  The family included their young daughter Gertrude, and his adult brother and sister.
Brother Makawa walked up the hill with us so we could see the damage.

This had been one of the nicer homes, only finished in July this year.

We walked over to check on the Tsegulas who do not live high.

Fortunately, the Tsegulas have several buildings on their property and he and his wife moved to another one.  He said he had a dream in the night to wake up and be prepared because something was going to happen.

There will be more rain coming in the next few days.  We are working with the church to establish what the needs are of the branches and what we can best do to prepare families for the future. In the States we talk about emergency preparedness all of the time, but for Malawians it is many times more difficult because they just have enough for day to day. It requires a whole new way of thinking.

Our water has been turned on this evening after four days of sporadic usage and two full days without any.  The elders have come over to collect water in large plastic containers since they are still without in their apartments.
Being without water is definitely inconvenient, but after seeing the unfortunate events of the last few days, I think we would all say that we are blessed beyond measure.  One of those blessings is being able to serve as missionaries here in Malawi and to see the resilience, the sense of community, and the faith and hope of the people that we have come to care about.   For that I am deeply grateful.