Sunday, February 24, 2008

Water, water everywhere...

After two years of a severe drought, the prayers of the Namibian people have been heeded in an overwhelming fashion. People are saying that God finally answered, but he forgot to turn off the tap. It has rained every single day for the past two weeks, and when I say rain I mean RAIN-- sheets of rain that crash down onto our tin roofs and tear branches from trees and uproot bushes. Rain so strong it knocks over goats and cattle, killing many with it's shear force. And as the rain continues to fall, the water situation continues to worsen. Almost everyday I walk to town, I find myself wandering through people’s homesteads and mahangu fields, trying to find new ways in as the usual paths are under knee-deep oshanas by now. The oshanas completely surround the school where I’m teaching, so twice a day all 400 learners and 13 teachers remove their shoes, hike up their trousers and skirts and wade through the water. The oshanas are home to millions of tiny, newly hatched frogs (as well as water snakes) that set off in a hopping fury when pedestrians approach them, resulting in thousands of squishy frog pancakes that cover the ground (as one volunteer duly noted, the only thing worse than feeling a frog squish beneath your sandal is trapping a frog in between your sandal and your foot... and then feeling it squish). Never ones to miss an opportunity to find humor in a seemingly humorless situation, the learners have taken to pelting one another with frogs as the masses pass through the water. This inevitably leads to someone falling into the muddy water while trying to dodge a frog attack, and almost everyday I have at least one child come to class dripping wet. “No more frog throwing!” I say. They just laugh.

Every elder I speak with tells me that this is the worst flooding they have seen in their lifetime (i.e. at least the last 90 years). "Omeya!" they say. Too much water. The floods are a result of both heavy rain, as well as the opening of flooded dams in Angola just 40km away, which is what caused the water to rise so quickly here in the north. The Global Disaster Alert System has reported that at least 23 people have died thus far. More than 50 schools have halted teaching due to an overwhelming drop in learner attendance. Thousands of cattle and livestock have been killed by the heavy downpour. Unwilling to leave their cattle—their livelihood—behind, many cattle herders have found themselves trapped by high waters deep in their villages, essentially cut off from the rest of the country. Government helicopters made special trips yesterday, delivering food and other basic supplies to the herders in these isolated areas. Hundreds of thousands of people in the rural villages have been displaced, forced from their homes and work places due to rising water levels. There are three major towns in my area – Ondangwa, Oshakati and Ongwediva. These three towns, about 10 - 20km from one another, represent the urban centre of the north. Like the villages that surround this area, all three of these towns have been hit hard by flooding. Businesses that are depended on by thousands of people have been forced to close, and many roads leading into and out of the towns have been washed away. Ondangwa, Oshakati and Ongwediva have all set up evacuation centres for flood victims who have been displaced, but the demand for accommodation has become overwhelming. With more and more people being evacuated, these centres are becoming less and less inhabitable. The Namibian is reporting that two children died at the evacuation centres last week due to suspected intestinal illnesses. These three towns are connected by a series of small bridges, which are swelling under the pressure of the rising waters passing beneath them. Many fear that these bridges will collapse, essentially cutting off the towns and evacuation centres from the outside world. The situation is dire, and unfortunately I’ve heard the worst of the rain is still to come…

Jay (my co-PCVL in the north) and I spent the whole of last week visiting the volunteers whose villages have been hardest hit by the floods. While our own sites have been affected, we were shocked at the high water levels we found deep in the villages. As devastating as it all is, these rural communities have united together. The one or two bakkies that attempt to pass through the water squeeze as many passengers in the back as possible. The brave souls who go into town always make their journey known before hand, so those left behind can place orders or make requests. People hold one another’s hands as they walk together through the high, treacherous waters, and small children ride the shoulders of their escorts. As the usual roads and paths are flooded, we had to stop often to ask local people which ways were easiest to pass through. Every where we went, local people would volunteer to ride along and accompany us through the floods, sometimes staying with us for more than 6hrs of driving, giving us directions and readying themselves to push when we found ourselves sinking.

So, for the time being we're all just waiting; waiting for the rain to stop falling, the oshanas to dry up. There isn't much more we can do, other than wait. And be careful what we pray for.

Here are some pictures from the last few weeks...

That is not a usual body of water-- it is a flooded oshana. Oshana means an open pan of dry land, but due to the heavy rains, most oshanas have filled up like this one. People have to cross through these daily. This one in particular was up to my knees at its deepest.

School kids, who are coping

More than 50 schools throughout the north have closed, due to flooding in the school yards and classrooms. Even at schools that have remained opened, such as the ones pictured here, attendance has dropped as the children, especially the small ones, are unable to safely cross the oshanas to get to their schools.

A flooded village

Many shops have been forced to close due to rising water levels

The "Peace Beast"; our durable transport for the week

It was inevitable

The dirt roads become like quicksand with all this water.
After tempting fate one too many times,
the oshana gods had their way with us.

Our rescue: a bakkie filled with memes who didn't hesitate to hike up their skirts, jump in the water and help us push our bakkie out. And then their bakkie stuck, so we pushed them out. And then another bakkie came and it got stuck also, so we helped push them out. It was a long day.

There is a fairly large oshana directy in front of my school, and the only way to get in or out of school is to pass through. These brave little souls always do it with a smile.

My sisters, crossing a very deep oshana near our house

From The Namibian. Poor guy


Blogger Jason Sears said...

Caitlin, thanks for the vivid descriptions and great pictures. You are my favorite Namibian correspondent! I'll check back regularly for my much-needed connection with that place far, far away.

6:19 PM  
Blogger blackstone said...

Great pictures!

9:06 PM  

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