Sonjeka Reborn


Some of you may remember our post back in January 2015 presumptuously titled Sonjeka Village RIP. Back then – still relatively new to Malawi – we were shocked by the devastation that resulted in a whole village nestled in a wide meander of the River Ruo being wiped out in a single afternoon by the rain-swollen river.

Even though no one had been killed, as we walked across the thick river-silt covering that had drowned the maize fields and gazed at piles of rubble and thatch, we just could not image this place recovering.

Bridge disappeared Jan 2015. Bridge rebuilt Oct 2017

We were wrong. And after three years in Malawi getting to understand the resilience of the Malawi people we would probably never now right-off a place so quickly. Perhaps we should have seen a hint of what might be to come, not in the pain-racked expression of the aged but in the speed with which a few days after the disaster the village children had bounced back; with the older boys playing football on the silted fields and the younger children dancing behind us as we walked through the desolation.

We said then that we would never forget the village, and we haven’t. And so, last month, when he was in Mpala village for Preach the Word, Myles jumped at the chance for an evening walk down the slope to the River Ruo and a return to Sonjeka Village.

Crops washed away Jan 2015. Beans for harvest Oct 2017

And what a difference. The wide desolate fields of silt were now fields of beans waiting to be harvested, and new family homes had sprouted out of the rubble of the flood. And what had been a torrential river 10M about normal levels has subsided into a peaceful meandering river where children played in the Mozambique-Malawi ferries that in early 2015 has saved villagers from death by drowning.

Flood wrecked river Jan 2015. Peaceful  river Oct 2017

Myles was even able to find news of the tearful grandmother we had met back in 2015, with a neighbour confirming she was faring well, but unable to face rebuilding in the village she had moved off to be with her children.

Devastated grandmother among the ruins of her house, Jan 2015. Reassuring neighbour at the same spot with  new houses in the background, Oct 2017,

Back then we were left wondering whether the land and people of Malawi would be able to use that national crisis to “find its collective soul, its collective strength, and its collective courage”. We must honestly say that the ongoing corruption and party political regionalism we have witnessed over the last couple of years does not give us much hope (humanly speaking) that this will happen any time soon. And despite the beauty of the location of the village, neither can we be convinced of the wisdom of the villagers rebuilding ready for the next climate-change, deforestation exacerbated, flood.

However, we can but remain optimistic – and prayerful – that some day the collective resilience, tenacity and goodwill of the Malawian people that is demonstrated in the rebirth of Sonjeka village will be harnessed for the new-birth of a spiritually and economically prosperous Malawi.

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