Sunday, March 8, 2015

As noted previously, Thursday 26/02/15 was the day we had arranged to deliver the flood relief supplies which had been purchased by the Humanitarian Missionaries, Elder and Sister Bodily through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Humanitarian Services. Wednesday was spent paying for and loading sufficient supplies to allow distribution to 1250 families.  We worked with a representative of the Czech Republic Relief organization because he had established local contacts and could facilitate the arrangements.  The Thylo (say cho-low) District Commissioners have direct supervision of all the NGO helpers, in order to avoid confusion and duplication of efforts.  The loading involved two fairly good-sized trucks which left Blantyre on Wednesday as soon as they were loaded and the drivers spent the night in their trucks at the district offices, guarding the supplies to prevent pilfering.

We met with Beal's and Bodily's at the Blantyre Chapel, assembled our nine YSA and AP volunteers, and caravanned down the side of the mountain into the Shire Valley at Chikhwawa (sometimes spelled Chikwawa).  We drove to Thylo District Headquarters and met the trucks a little bit later than we had scheduled.  That worked out alright, since one of the trucks was changing a flat tire, and our guide from the District Disaster Coordinator was late getting there, too. 

We were assigned to two routes, the Beal's and their crew going north with one, and the Bodily's and my crew going south with the other.  That was quite an adventure.  It had rained again heavily the night before, and the river was rising as we drove toward Nchalo. The water came up across most of the road, and at times we were driving as if in a lake, our wake washing up against the houses alongside the road.  Eventually we came to a place where the water was actually running rapidly across the road, the majority of the river unable to pass under the bridge on M1, the main north-south highway in Malawi.  We were stopped in the water while another large tractor-trailer semi made his way toward us across the bridge and the river, then it was our turn to go the other way, since we were caught in the middle of the overflow.  The cars and mini-buses were waiting for the water to go down.  I told the four brethren in my car, "You all pray and I'll drive."  I put the vehicle in 4WD and we plowed across the current in the wake of our big truck.  It was pretty scary, and I kept thinking of the Weather Channel slogan "TURN AROUND, DON'T DROWN."  The water got up to the running board of the car, but we all made it safely.  They closed the road temporarily after we got through with our emergency supplies.  Surely the Lord heard our prayers.

We drove almost to the Mozambique border, actually within 5 kilometers where we made the first distribution.  We were met by a number of hungry residents who were not assigned to the refugee camp.  It was disheartening to have to tell them that our supplies were to be delivered to the displaced families in the camp, an assignment which had been made by the District. 

Sister Bodily plunged into the crowd and communicated as best we could our disappointment in not being able to help everyone.  I joined her, and then decided that while all the talking (which always proceeds any action in Malawi) was going on we could have fun with the children.  We started singing Primary action songs, "Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes" and "Do As I'm Doing, Follow, Follow Me."  I felt like Sister Bodily should be involved with the actual distribution, so I sent her off to help with the refugees, and I entertained the children, and eventually, all the mothers who were enjoying the diversion as much as the kids. Eventually I had over a hundred smiling small people trying to get the "eyes, ears, mouth, and nose" routine down so we could go fast.  We all got to laughing so hard that I could hardly sing.

The head man lined up all the 450 recipients according to his list, and then sent them across the highway in groups of ten to where we were parked to receive their donation.  The crew would place one 10 kg. sack of maize flour on each person's head, the next one would place a 5 kg. sack of cowpeas (garbanzo beans) on top of that, and finally Sister Bodily would hand them 4 packages of  soya pieces which they will use for relish to eat with the nshema which is their staple food like super-thick corn meal. Because they are all cooking communally (they have few cooking utensils) we distributed salt and cooking oil to groups, rather than individuals.

As we were finishing up, I bid good-bye to my beautiful group of children, we did fist-bumps all around, and drove back toward Nchalo for the next distribution. We drove out through the sugar cane fields of the Ilovo Sugar Company until we reached the next two camps.  They were on opposite sides of the service road.  Once again, I entertained the children while the supervisors talked, and we set up the distribution lines for another 400 families. 

I was having such a good time that eventually I could hardly talk, after having sung the same songs for three groups over a four-hour period.  It was just heart-warming to be able to bring a little lightness, mirth, and joy to children who had nothing except the ragged clothes on their backs.  We sang, laughed, and totally enjoyed each other, and none of us spoke the same language.  My Chichewa is limited to daily greetings, and their English is non-existent.  As usual, the further you get out in the villages, the less education is available at all. The funniest part was singing "There was a little house in the middle of the wood."  They had trouble with the concept of having a rabbit for a pet.  If they ever see one, he gets eaten immediately...

It was quite late when we started for home, and because there had been a mix-up at one of the camps we had 400 bags of each product left on the truck.  They directed us to a warehouse where we unloaded the remainder (something we weren't anxious to do because we will never know who benefited from the goods, or even if they were distributed along with the 1200 blankets).  The corruption may result in its being diverted and sold elsewhere, but we were told by our leadership that we had done all we could, and to leave it in the Lord's hands, since it was His provisions.  We can only pray that things get distributed without cost to those who truly need them.

We started back for home, thinking we might have to cross the flood again, but the river had fallen dramatically, and the pavement was dry, an answer to our prayers.  The delay in off-loading had allowed the river to carry off the day's flooding, and although there was still water all around, the road was high and dry.   It was about 9:30 when we finally were able to deliver all of our crew to their homes in parts of Blantyre, which we had to do because the public transport is almost non-existent after about 7:30.

What joy there is in being able to do service.  We saw relief on the faces of those who were hungry, happiness in the faces of the children for a very small diversion, and thankfulness in the eyes of the mothers who have nothing to give their families.  It is both heart warming and heart rending to witness.  We only wish we could have done more.  The Bodily's have been on the road since it started raining in January, trying to assess the damages, determine who is trustworthy to work with, and arrange funding, then arrange for goods and transport, and finally coordinate delivery.  They have been magnificent and they finally got home this week after two months away.  We love and appreciate them, especially since they have spent so much time in our home.  We will miss them dearly when we return to the USA later this month.

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