By Sr. Cecily Bourdillon Zimbabwe/ Ireland 02.01.2022
I had the great joy and privilege of being missioned in Malawi for 19 years. Malawi is a small land-locked country with a population of nearly twenty million, in the centre of Africa and has the name of ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’.
My first assignment was to Chipini in Zomba District in the southern part of Malawi. MMM had been invited to Chipini by the Diocese when the burden of taking pregnant women and the very ill to Hospital in the middle of the night became too great for the Comboni Missionary community in Chipini. The Health Centre was built and the MMMs were invited to administer it.
In response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the Home Based Palliative Care and Orphan Care programme was initiated and developed and expanded.
An ‘ Orphan’ was a child under the age of eighteen, or still at school, who had lost one or both parents. One major task was to see to the education of the orphans. Primary school was free but secondary school had to be paid for. We provided uniforms and stationery for the primary school orphans who needed assistance but our main concern was to provide funding for secondary school. With the generous support of benefactors, we were able to assist 100 orphans to attend the four years of secondary school.
It was December 31st. The results of the Primary School Certificate Examination had been released. I had visited most of the primary schools in our area and had gathered the results of our orphans to know whether they had succeeded in qualifying for a place in a secondary school. One primary school -Matipa, the furthest from Chipini, about 7 kms, remained to be visited.
After lunch I set off on my bicycle to collect the results. I had two rivers to cross. The first was easy to cross as there were large boulders on which to step and a kind person carried my bicycle. The second was a little deeper. I waded through the water which almost covered my boots.
When I looked out across the fields to the distant hills, I noticed that they were enveloped in dark rain clouds. I also realised that it had rained in the area I was traversing. I was no longer able to wheel my bike through the thick, sticky mud. I stopped at the next village and left my bike with people who kindly agreed to take care of it.
Relieved of my bicycle I walked briskly up the hill. I collected the results and began my homeward journey. It was about 3 pm. I returned to the home where I had left my bike. I heard people talking excitedly about the river but could not gather what the cause of the excitement was. As I drew near the river I soon discovered!
A large crowd of people had gathered on both banks. The river had risen to the top of the steep banks covering the banana trees. It was now a gushing torrent and the whole area was under water – a mighty flood! I had never seen such a sight. Some brave men were trying to swim across, but were carried by the fierce current. I was advised to wait an hour so I went back to the house where I had stopped before.
After an hour I returned. The flooding was as I had left it and now the sun was going down. At that point from the crowd emerged a face I knew – one of our Home-Based Care Volunteers. I was so relieved to see him. He said there was no possibility of crossing as I had already surmised and invited me to his home. I gratefully accepted. I very much appreciated the mobile phone that I had with me to tell my sisters what had happened.
By now it was dark as I followed closely on the heels of my friend. I could see nothing in the darkness and implicitly trusted my guide who seemed to have excellent night vision! We came to his house and his wife greeted us. He asked for food – ‘nsima’ made of maize flour and ‘ndiwo’ made of vegetables – which I was given but could not see. How much I appreciated it! My host then invited me to sleep with his mother. I was led to her round hut made of wooden poles and grass. By the light of a small lamp the family members rigged up a mosquito net for me. Though a little holey, I was touched by their great care to protect me from mosquitoes.
His elderly mother gave me her sleeping mat on the floor whilst she slept on a sack near me – without a mosquito net . The sleeping mats used in the area are made of reeds cut in half and put together with string. O my! They are very uncomfortable to lie on. I was glad of my raincoat that kept in my body heat and my boots that kept my toes warm. I could not sleep a wink but certainly did not want my hostess to know.
At the first light I asked my hostess if her son could help me get home. Malawians are early risers so we were soon on our bicycles heading for Chipini.
New Year’s Day! New beginnings! New hopes and dreams! The rising sun shone on the fresh green fields of maize. The birds were singing their praises of a new day. ‘Morning had broken like the first Morning!’ I felt like Noah emerging from the Ark after the flood. My heart was bursting with joy and gratitude for this new day and this New Year.