A Story for Valentino, Sebastian, Dexter, Harriet, Joe, Charlie, Jaimee, Joe and Connor

Matimbe is a goat herd… He’s 6 years old. He doesn’t do it all alone! His younger brother, Joshua helps him. Joshua is 5. They live in the countryside, surrounded by avocado and orange trees… The oranges are green but taste so sweet.

Joshua

Matimbe

The avocados drop ripe from the trees into Matimbe’s hands if he waits at the right time under the tree. Sometimes they are very hard still, like rocks and bright green, but many times they are going dark and ripe and just perfect to share with Joshua.

Somedays Laila gives them fresh breadrolls to take with them when they work. Laila is the lady who sells bread to all the farmworkers everyday. Her bread costs 1 Meticais and tastes like a million dollars. There is a huge banana plantation near the village of Chivonguene where Matimbe’s family lives. Some of the people work there, but most have their own Machambas where they grow corn and beans.

Two months ago the whole village had to run and hide as the water was coming from the mountains and people said they would drown if they stayed there! They ran and left everything. They went to a place that was two hours walk away, but made it in an hour and a half as they ran the whole way!

Matimbe tried to make the goats run with him, but some were confused and ran away. He was scared his father would be cross with him, normally his father gets very mad if Matimbe loses even one kid… but this time his father just held him tight and said not to worry… That everything would be fine.

Father and Son

Matimbe’s mother, Gloria, carried all the pots and pans on her head with the three blankets she could fit. She looked really sad and worried, like the time that father had lost all his seeds last year because of the rains. But they were ok, they got through that and soon they had plenty to eat again. This year would be the same. Father would work hard at the farm with mother and they would do their best to go to school and keep the goats together and fat.

When they went to the highland, father asked Uncle Sebastiao to stay with the house so that nothing would be robbed while they were away. Sebastiao had to climb on top of the roof of the house and sleep there for four days. He took wood from a part of the house to make a fire so he could cook ontop of the house. It was very dangerous, and there were lots of mosquitos all the time. The water came up two metres around the house, like a deep swimming pool.

Saving Beds

Sebastiao made a line and caught some fish which he dried in the sun on the roof. Sebastiao wasn’t the only person who stayed in the village, a few other men stayed on their roofs to protect their houses. Almost all of their things got destroyed by the flood, but they were able to save some chairs and mattresses and blankets. They slept under the beautiful stars and prayed and hoped that the flooding would stop so they could repair their homes and their families could come back.

Matimbe's House

Now things are getting back to normal. Uncle Sebastiao and Matimbe’s father have been fixing up the house with sticks and straw, Gloria has been fetching mud from the area and packing it in between the sticks to close up all the holes in the house. The mosquitos are crazy, but somebody from the government gave them a net so they are able to all huddle underneath it. Matimbe doesn’t usually sleep close to his mother and father, but because they only have one net, Gloria has insisted that they must all sleep close together so nobody get’s sick. Father snores and Joshua kicks hard in his sleep, so Matimbe doesn’t sleep so well. But he doesn’t want Malaria. He saw Laila with it last year… she was so ill. She could not make bread for one week and she just lay on the ground underneath one of the trees. They were scared that she would not get up, but somebody gave her money to get a Chappa to the doctor nearby and he gave her some medicine. She got better but many said it was because she was not old and weak. Matimbe is determined not to get Malaria even if it means he needs to be kicked by Joshua and have his father snoring in his ear. Anyway, Gloria normally sings quietly to them as they fall asleep and that makes him happy.

Matimbe lost his school books and his colouring pencils and his school bag in the flood. He’s very sad, because he got them last year and he was only one of a few children that got them at the school. They told him to take care of them, because there would not be more again. So now he’s wondering what he will do. Joshua was not happy about the colouring pencils either because he loves to use them to scribble everywhere! Matimbe hopes that the school will open again soon. The classroom got completely flooded and the teacher’s house fell down. The teacher is ok though, she went to the big town where her sister lives. She will come back next week and then she will want the village to help with cleaning up the school.

You!

The teacher’s name is Nancy, and Matimbe likes her very much. She always smiles and says nice things. She notices all the moods of Matimbe’s friends, if they are sad or happy or sick or lazy… and she asks them what they need. When she can, she buys bread and yoghurt for the class so that they can have energy for learning. She says it is important that Matimbe eats and sleeps well so that he can pay attention in class. Matimbe loves school. His favourite class is English. He likes to learn new words so he can speak to the new people when they come to the village. They come to visit his village, but none of them can speak the local language, Changana… he doesn’t understand why you would go somewhere to visit someone but not be able to speak to them in their language. He wants to visit them at their home and speak to them in English, then they will be shocked and surprised and happy!!! He also loves mathematics. Matimbe spends all day counting things. When he is minding the goats he counts them. When he is catching avocados he counts them. When he is walking through the fields to bring some bread to Gloria, he counts the maize plants. He loves to add up numbers. He likes to know something certain, and for Matimbe, numbers don’t change. He relies on numbers. Sometimes Matimbe helps his father count the money that they make from selling maize and beans. It doesn’t take long, but it is nice to play with the shiny coins. They don’t seem to stay long, the coins. Father buys fertiliser and seeds and pays for a new hoe or some blankets. There is always another expense.

Friends

Matimbe will work hard at school so that he can go and work in the city where he has heard there is a lot of money, especially if you study hard at Maths and English. Then he will buy Gloria and his father a beautiful new house that will be strong enough to resist the floods, like the one that the shop owner lives in. He might even make it have a big roof so he can put the goats ontop when it floods! And maybe a space for his books and for Joshua so that they can stay dry and safe.

Sister and Brother

Sitting in a greasy spoon in Chokwe town on a sleepy Sunday afternoon.

The Sugestoes do Chefe are posted on a blackboard in a corner of the bar. Some of the suggestions are not available in this establishment today… Fish is not available. Vegetables also seemed to incur some surprise!

I’ve chosen the soup and chips… Patates con? asked the barman. Con frango? Biefe? No thanks, I’ll have chips with Soup… really? Me no lave mova… I don’t want meat, I said in something approaching Shangana. Just chips and vegetables if you have them… So I got soup with meat bones, beef and chicken seemed to form most of the stock.

I ordered a beer along with the soup and chips, a Laurentina Preta. A gorgeous sweet, malty stout-like drink, with a light head. It’s refreshing and malty and tastes like a pint of pure goodness. It doesn’t have the heaviness of Guinness, but at first glance it could fool you.

This morning I helped out at a WASH distribution in Canicado, a town just across the Limpopo river in Guija district. Canicado was badly affected by the floods, having over 2 metres of water wash through their homes. My colleague, Rosianto, distributed buckets, soap and Certeza water treatment there today to 120 families. I threw in 120 mosquito nets from the shelter stock.

Just as well for me as for the families! I had them in the bedroom in the hotel with me last night, and although I can now be quite grateful for the sheer absence of mosquitos in my room, I feel sure the amount of insecticide in the nets in the confined space contributed to me feeling quite queasy this morning…

It was interesting being at the WASH distribution, it’s really different to how our Shelter distributions are done. Rosianto explained to people how to wash their hands properly and how to use Certeza correctly. With the Shelter items, most people know how to use a tarp well and just want the material as fast as possible. We could spend more time explaining the use and possible home improvements, but I think that this is pretty redundant in most cases. I’ve seen some pretty impressive shelters people have built with the tarps we’ve given them. We’ll be working with a team of local builders to spread messages in the community of how to locate your building better to avoid or reduce flood damage, and what kind of improvements you can do to your house to render it more resilient to risks of flood, earthquake, high winds etc. etc.

At the distribution, I marked people’s thumbnail with blue permanent marker to show they had received something, and then handed them the bucket with soap, certeza and mosquito net. I find it really nice doing that work. You look into people’s faces and eyes and see part of their story. You see old women and young children, blaggards, and gangsters, people who have worked too hard at life, all their lives. Women with infants on their backs, young girls with dreams still alive in their eyes. Old men with clouded eyes but peaceful demeanors. Young boys with cheek and devilment and fun in every movement of their bodies, ready for life and excitement. Old women worn out by working on farms and in houses for little or nothing and seeing all they have earned washed away in one night. Still light in their eyes and tranquility in their faces. I hope I can be somebody like that. I hope that I don’t let bitterness fester in me and shrivel up and die instead of taking every little drop of life and enjoying every bit of goodness.

So now, I’m just chilling, drinking my Preta and wondering what to do for the rest of the day, at least until I meet up with guys from the Red Cross later on to discuss our plans for the next couple of days.

All is good, apart from a niggling little cough I have as a result of the AC in the car and the hotel room. I hate AC, but Chokwe has been insanely hot over the last few days. It’s humid and paradoxically sandy as well! I guess people are just relieved that there are no longer 2 metres of water everywhere, like there was just 2 weeks ago!

Business in Chokwe is back to almost usual, shops are open, hotels are open. The Galp petrol station was back open and running and serving the best espresso this far North of Macia. It hasn’t been open for the past 3 days and I was getting itchy from my caffeine addiction, so I asked what had happened, why was the station closed? I was told the owner had been shot dead in a robbery on Thursday evening or so. He was at home, I think, and somebody came for him and his money. Now he’s dead. I’m not sure if they got any money off him.

Like any other place where people are poor, life is relatively cheap. But despite that, I don’t feel in any danger in Chokwe, at least not in daylight hours. The night is another story. It’s strange how night changes the personality of a place, provides places for opportunists to hide and run away. Let them run, let them hide. We’ll enjoy what we can.

Even the three flies in my Preta don’t bother me!