Chitsanzo Kasalika of Kandulu Village, Traditional Authority Ndindi in Salima, will never forget the dawn on January 6 this year.
On the fateful night, the mother of two children; one aged 10 months and the other three years, experienced floods for the first time in her life.
The village is not far from Lake Malawi. It lies in a low lying area, east of the hills where Lifidzi River and other streams carry huge volumes of water.
On this day, it rained all night. But as dawn broke, Kasalika heard shouts: madzi! madzi! (water! water!)
“I stepped outside and saw the water had already reached our house. My husband was still sleeping. While figuring out what to do, I heard a thud. I dashed inside and found part of the bedroom wall had collapsed on my husband and the child,” she recalled.
“Fortunately, my child was not injured because my husband shielded her, but he was injured on his left side,” she said.
She called out for help and some neighbours rushed her injured husband to Mchoka Health Centre.
The following morning, the family was evacuated to nearby Chikowa Primary School where they spent a few days sleeping in classrooms.
Later, Salima District Council brought Unicef branded tents, in which they have been living since as they await a new and permanent home.
Together with hundreds other affected people, they are living in tents and surviving on handouts from well-wishers and organisations such as Feed the Children.
The families that sought shelter at the school are 520. But the district’s disaster risk management office says there are 2 888 people that were affected.
Blessings Kamteme, Salima disaster risks management officer, says the camp has 715 children.
Since the area is flood prone, a civil protection committee, made of people trained in handling emergencies like floods, was formed to take care of the situation.
Majawa Bwanali is chairperson for the committee, which is made up of villagers but works with the office of the district commissioner, police and the hospital.
“When disaster strikes, we rush to evacuate the people. We check if we have casualties that need medical assistance,” Bwanali said.
After assisting the victims, they are taken to evacuation camps.
Life in the camps is such that men and boys stay in tents separate from women and girls. Families or couples do not stay together.
“Forget about staying as a couple here,” said Kasalika: “Some of the people at this camp are taking advantage of the situation to engage in extra-marital affairs.”
She said the behaviour is being fuelled by the people’s tendency to watch videos at video showrooms at night.
“What happens is that some people go to watch movies in the video show rooms and return under cover of darkness. It is at that time that they engage in extra marital affairs,” she added.
Bwanali said he is aware of the situation which he called worrisome.
“What we have done is to involve the Salima District Aids Coordinator and we are supplying them with condoms,” he said.
Such is the life for the flood victims in Salima. They are expected to stay in the camps until the end of this month. Currently, the disaster risk management office is teaching them how to build low cost flood-resistant houses. The villagers, however, have to use their own resources.
For Kasalika, her husband goes to work every morning to raise money for their new house, and he has already started working on it.
“He works in a maize mill to raise funds. We have cleared whatever remained of our old house to pave the way for a better structure. We are going to use burnt bricks and apply the modern methods that government is teaching us,” said Kasalika.
The woman said she and her children, like many others, cannot wait to be reunited with their families under one roof.
“Living in a communal place like this is never the same as your own house, especially when you have small children,” said Kasalika.
Although she is eager to go back to the privacy of their own home, Kasalika says she is not sure of their survival.
“We lost our crop in the floods. We had many bags of maize, enough to take us through to the next harvesting season, but it was all damaged with the floods. We are not sure how long the relief food will be given to us,” says Kasalika.
But there is one thing she likes about life in the camps: “It has brought us close together as a community than ever before”.