Forget what you think you know or what you heard them presume to understand. We were simple people, living uncomplicated lives and minding our own day to day business as such is the norm of most common human beings. However, no one anticipated such a despicable atrocity to avail and commemorate itself in fully altering people’s lives and futures. We had teachers, mothers, fathers, pillars of strength, everyone you need typically when you grow up but how do you explain a good morning to somebody who woke up healthy and slept without a goodnight forever? I cry daily because no one understands that they call us survivors and heroes yet we are the traumatized and storytellers that were left to fabricate and edited the horror that befell our loved ones. Two, Twenty, one million, twenty-five zillion, do the numbers of the dead really matter when everything totally changed for us? I remember we used to go to church during Sundays and we always used to joke around with the police officers when we passed by the station on our way to church but only a sea of boulders, the pulpit floor and one gumboot are left to tell the tale of what used to be!
We all had land, rich or poor, able or disabled, we all progressed under the blessed shadow of Mother Nature as an agricultural-based economy and community but the science that we knew wasn’t black enough for the terror that we witnessed! Things fell from the sky, water came from everywhere, darkness blinded us all and land disappeared. You could scream, pray and try to MacGyver the situation but when the rocks came and the landslides cultivated a new tomorrow for us, it didn’t matter who you were or how capable you could be, it was simply God’s grace to survive! People usually address death as simply saying goodbye and pouring soil onto the grave of a loved one but this was different. Imagine waking up as a husband and a father of four kids with a beautiful wife only to see the next day on top of a mountain with nothing except one picture of your family inside your wallet. How then do you normalize and accept death dear friends?
My last born survived because she was in her coat bed when the water broke through my and her mother’s bedroom wall. The coat bed floated and because the water at the time was still rising slowly l had time to reach and carry her out. Her mother unfortunately still hadn’t come back from visiting my in-laws as she wanted to assist them at fields to plant sweet potatoes. To this day l remember my wife and three other kids by their last words as they carried hoes and fertilizer bags to my in-laws’ place, “take care of the young one for us, we will be back in the evening” and that was the last time l ever saw them. Now tell me world! Because l have sought the worst and best kinds of pain, medications and drugs trying to forget and comfort myself and be strong for my 2 years old daughter but l have failed. Some days it gets even worse because people keep on asking what happened and every time l tell these strangers what happened l just keep on wishing that l had gone with my boys and wife! If you have time, if you need more clarity and if you could spare a moment of peace and respect for the loved ones we lost then keep quiet and listen as l tell you a story of “change within a night!”
CHAPTER ONE (Before) PART 1
Before the cyclone, there were over ninety formal houses and countless informal structures in the small village that l live in in-between Chipinge and Chimanimani but today only one house survived whilst the rest became part of the ramble that was flushed away by the great waters. If you ask us, really inquire of us, if we knew that the cyclone was coming? We will totally agree that indeed we knew but what we didn’t know was what it was and what it could do! Being in region one where there is vast rainfall and high temperatures normally we assumed that the weather forecasts and early warning systems meant that a cyclone was just more heavy rains and wind therefore we resumed our daily lives as usual only to be caught vulnerable by an uppercut that left us decimated on the canvas. My name doesn’t matter but for the sake of progress, please understand that what l am about to tell you won’t matter until you understand that l was just like you before l became a victim, a beneficiary, something l never thought or dreamed to be, void! By profession, l was a school teacher but by skill, l was a barber on weekends when l was usually free. Abigail Mlambo, a black beauty that had this dimple and aurora around her that made me smile every time she spoke, was my wife, my best friend and my Nubian queen l meet 20 years ago. Our eldest child was 19 years old, the second born was 17 years old, the third was 15 years old and the last born is 2 years old, the only girl, survivor, my princess and world!
If l had time l would tell you extensively about what my kids used to like and do and what my wife’s favourite meal and the song was, the finer things in life and priceless moments but because l need you to understand what happened on that Friday, that dark day, I will tell you of the things that truly matter. It began with loud thunder,l mean the one they only show and make in horror movies. You could swear someone had stepped on a close landmine but the sound was so intense and loud that even people in Mozambique felt it the same time we did! At the moment, there were no borders, no wards, nothing besides the fight for survival! There was total darkness, it was so scary and overwhelmingly dark that you could even see your hands upclose properly. I remember jumping to the side when the first boulder hit the family hut, it wasn’t instinct or luck,l was reading my Bible as usual before l tuck into bed when l heard a huge sound that followed the thunder. It was like someone rowing a boat in a quiet river and the fish were all oblivious to the net and traps that had been cast! When l jumped to the side and the boulder ate the entire kitchen away! It didn’t have to be dark or bright for me to understand that l had to run for my life!
With no time to gather anything or prepare at all, l flew out of the house! Yes, my friend,l flew! You see the family hut had a one-way enter and exit door and the boulder had carved a Picasso out of that normality. The windows were gone, the bedroom doors were all gone or carved in to a point of no recognition at all and what was left was a big hole on the roof that l flew barefooted from until l hit the ground rolling as l escaped. It was on my second step after hitting the ground that l realised l couldn’t run any further without looking for my child…
CHAPTER TWO (Child)
Dead silence, clouds of chewable dust, frothy darkness and the sheer twilight of horror! This sounds far fetched, isn’t it? but funny enough this is the reality that awaited me as l set foot on the squashed door frame of my baby’s bedroom. I called all the sweet names you can ever give and call your baby girl with, even the ones l knew she would respond to smilingly with her sweet baby gestures but only a torrid coldness of air replied to me. It felt like l had escaped an episode of death in order for it to theatrically embrace me at its folds in the most excruciating way possible as l saw my feet getting soaked suddenly and the water rising in a very abnormal nature. At that point, l literally froze and lost my mind for a second. How could the boulders be not enough l wondered? I had already lost a house to the stones and landslide and the water was here to flush and finish the job l lamented. The worst part was that l was possible standing on my child’s souped and minced body and there was nothing l could do about it if that was the reality.
Whatever ever happened next l was ready to embrace it. There was no shame, no time and no honour in such a death. As the water rose, the land seesawed on the ground and the sounds from the exploding mountains got louder, l saw my life from the beginning up to now in a flash. They say when you are about to die, everyone sees at least a segment of their lives in slow motion or fast forward depending on the type of death that awaits you and l believe it! In that flash, l saw all my failures as a father, as a son, a husband but most importantly as a man. You see dear friend, humanity is guilty of complacency and that was one of the things that led Adam and Eve to fall in the first place! We don’t see beyond our own purpose of life and so when we get comfortable at something we assume is rightly ours and feels good, we fold our hands and call it a day! This was what l was prepared to do as l had accepted my death.l couldn’t see beyond the situation that l was in and as fear crept in,l found a corner of comfort and closure in my mind and heart and tucked myself in nicely as awaited either a boulder to squash me or the water to flush me away!
“Baba baba!”(Dad..dad!)followed with a high pitched cry of severe pain brought me back to life. That was my daughter’s voice and cry for help beneath the rabble that was near the big mango tree! If l had no strength any more then there was no better motivation for digging in the last reserves of whatever energy l had left because for my princess l could fight the whole world itself and win! Rock after rock,l rolled them to the side trying to get nearer to the cries of my baby and l finally did. Miracles do happen dear reader! You see my baby girl was saved by the same big mango tree l wanted to cut down. When the boulders hit our house, they pushed her bed to the side of the garden that was near her room and she crawled outside to the tree for cover. This is how she survived although she lost 2 fingers in the process! I have never liked mangoes but only tolerated them for the love of my family had for them but if you ask me today about mangoes and how to eat them properly, my answer would be this! Before you eat one, pray that the fruit enriches your body and soul for the known and unknown and appreciate the deliciousness that comes with the belief that indeed it will boost your health and save your life! So when l made it to my baby girl,l took her in my arms and we escaped before the water and boulders consumed us!
CHAPTER THREE (Escape)
One question my friend! Have you ever climbed or tiptoed barefooted uphill on a mountain that is known to harbour the most deadliest snakes and baboons in the region whilst water and all cyclonic elements erase every footstep you make forward? It’s a big no huh? Well, it was my first time and unfortunately not my last too. You see l knew the terrain better than a blind man could ever rely on his walker to see the environment and believe me,l saw shadows of things ruining past me instead of towards me! It was like Noah had made the boat all over again and a few species had to make it there before the great flood began again. Everything knew naturally that this phenomenon was a force of nature that even fangs and claws couldn’t save you from! It felt like walking on glass whilst on a cow’s yoke as l strode up the mountain carrying my baby girl on my shoulders. I was tired and breathing like a steam engine but l didn’t stop. Finally,l made it to the pinnacle of the mountain and as l put my daughter down to catch my breath and check behind what was happening, l was traumatized!
Cattle, goats, chickens, ducks, pigs, you can name it all, the cyclone took it all away! Wealth in our culture is both monetary and quantity in livestock but we lost all our net worth in a single night. The advantage of where l was standing was that l had an eagle’s eye view of the whole village but l couldn’t help them or scream enough for anyone to take heed and run for their lives! One by one the houses fell and were swept away. You could hear cattle trying to moo for help but the water choke-slammed them deep inside the cold and silent darkness! Boulders fell from the mountains and crushed entire generations in some huts in a single hit of impact. As the water continued to rise, the screams and sounds got quiet, only bubbles filled the place as living organisms took their last breaths submerged! It was like someone had opened a fizzy drink on a small anthill and it overflowed spreading the bubbles and spillage everywhere until all the ants drowned!
People usually know how to explain things especially when they have studied them or gone to high levels of personal experience to attain them but l tell you today, no one can explain this to you or even worse, to me! I watched everything l grew up knowing being flushed away in a matter of hours and people that weaned me and leaned on me die and l didn’t know who was more lucky, me or them because being alone already felt like a death sentence itself! North, east, west and south,l check every direction for any sign of life but all l could see was a memory of what was once was and now is! It was me and my pale daughter in the dark and cold horizon. My little one was catching a cold and if l am being honest, as clueless as a 2-year-old child can be, she knew that something bad had happened and she had scars to prove it! I chewed some non-poisonous shrubs and rubbed them around the hand she had lost her two fingers just to physiologically ease her mind into feeling less pain but that was what it only was, temporary ease not miracles!
A long sweater, vest and boxer short, this was what l was wearing at the top of a mountain that had cold temperatures as low as 1-degree celsius and to make matters worse l was losing my sweater to the wounded and fragile princess! Being a father doesn’t prepare you for such things but a parent must surely sacrifice the best of themselves for their children without hesitation! As l wrapped the sweater turned blanket on her, she looked me directly in the eyes as if relaying a message to me. It wasn’t a look of fear or pain like before it was a look of compassion and weird comfort. At that moment l began to cry as l got numb because in that small sweater pocket l felt my wallet. The only thing that survived the cyclone and the only thing that had the picture of my family!
To be Continued…..
Written by Thabo Clive Mathonsi
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