I still have not recovered from the heartache of the mudslide.
My husband had left for his night shift, leaving me with our four children. We lived in a rented pan bodi (zinc house). My husband worked as a security guard. I sold simple household things, like bread and milk.
We had not experienced water leakage during the rains before, but that night was different. So much water leaked in that our bed was completely soaked. Early in the morning, hearing a disturbance outside, I looked out of the window. A large rock was hurtling down the hill.
Then, suddenly, the ground began to move. The entire room was shaking so much that we fell down. When I looked out again, I saw the rock had crushed our neighbour’s house, with everyone still inside. They all just disappeared under it.
Somehow, I managed to take my children out of the house, leaving everything behind. But even when we were out, we did not know how to climb out of the mud and water surrounding us. Luckily, two of our neighbours saw us and they helped us cross to safety.
My sisters, who lived nearby, were already looking for us and received us with cries and hugs. We sat on the streets. People were crying around us.
Then, I heard another loud boom and another portion of the hill collapsed. If we had waited inside our home for even five minutes longer, I would not be sitting with you right now.
Everybody was crying. One of my daughters kept asking me: “Mama, what is happening? What is happening?” I told her that I did not know, this was the hand of God. We lost one sister, my aunty, and many neighbours that day.
Thank God for the good people who came to our rescue. There was no food for us that day and we were trembling from the cold, but my sisters brought clothes for us. The next day, some government people arrived. They gave us food and told us more supplies would come soon. They built makeshift housing for us — and we ended up staying for four months. There were all kinds of stories about money about to come to us. Someone told me that even my youngest daughter would receive Le. 40 million ($3,900) at least.
This help never came. We were expecting the government to help us with some money so that we could build at least a dorti (clay) block house, but that didn’t happen. After four months, we were given one bag of rice each and told to find family members to stay with until the government could build a place for us.
First, I went to a friend in Malamah. But we could not stay there long as the children and I were too much of a burden on her. Then, I went to one of my sisters in Benghazi (an area lower in the valley). A man there had an empty zinc house and we pleaded with him to let me stay there with my children. He agreed, but now there’s a quarrel every day because he wants us to leave. Every day I have to beg him. This is the rainy season…where will my children and I go? I beg him to allow us to stay just until the dry season.
Our only means of survival is for me to break stones. I also have a good aunty who gives me lappas (lengths of cloth) and I sell them for her and she gives me part of the small profit. When I gather a bit of money, I buy garrie (cassava) and we eat. Sometimes we can afford to cook rice and plasas (leaf stew). If we need something that I can’t afford, my only option is to beg the good neighbours for help. I do it because of my children. I don’t want my children to stand over a neighbour’s pot, it is shameful for me as a mother.
My heart is not sweet. My children couldn’t attend school this year because we have no place to rest, no place to stay in peace. Even my body has reduced; this is not my usual body. I just wish the government can help me with a little money so that I can buy half a town lot to build a shelter for me and my kids. All I want is a home and for my children to go to a good school.
Photograph by Joshua Yarjah