More Thoughts from Bulawayo: 26 June 2005
It is now 2 weeks since the start of the destruction of peoples’ homes in Bulawayo, and at the churches, we are now settling into a routine (which in reality is anything but a routine) of sorting out the daily things which need to be done.
One church here is providing shelter to 300 people, another two have over 100, another about 60, and the others (there are 8 in all) I do not have numbers for.
Feeding is obviously the main need, and most days I have been to one of the central storerooms where the churches can access emergency food. People are being fed on mealie meal, kapenta (dried fish), sugar beans, and fresh cabbage or tomatoes, or other vegetables as they become available. All but one of the churches is cooking on open fires, so you can imagine the logistical exercise taking place on a daily basis to bring firewood from outlying areas into the churches to cook for this number of people. This being winter, of course, people are prone to stoke up the fires and keep them going for longer than is strictly necessary, for the warmth and comfort they offer. And with diesel and large trucks so hard to come by, it is a tough job; garages no longer sell firewood the way they used to, because the whole informal sector is in tatters, and they were the ones who used to gather this and sell it to the garages.
Second-hand clothes pour into the churches on a daily basis too, as people go through their cupboards and see what can be put to good use, but it also takes manpower to sort through the clothes and distribute them.
We have had some very generous gifts of blankets, so there is not a shortage of these at present, but (as with the clothes) it is hard to distribute them equitably, although one does one’s best.
Someone brought in a whole sackful of cuddly toys, and it was great to distribute these to the children. They have long days – as do the adults – with very little to fill them.
My greatest concern at the moment is that disease will strike; it has the potential to spread rapidly in these conditions. Over the weekend, I heard that one of the young men had to be taken to hospital, as he had caught some infection and had become very weak; I don’t know if they will have the drugs there to treat him, but am sure that the churches can help pay for them if need-be.
From the perspective of those of us who are involved, the city seems split into two sectors: those who know (and care) and those who don’t. I couldn’t believe it when I heard that the doctor at the hospital professed complete ignorance of what had happened! We also need more churches to open their doors to the displaced, as still more people are moved into town, and as this callous exercise continues. Bizarrely, it is a real blessing to have these people staying at our church, as it keeps the issue squarely before our eyes, and we cannot stay in our comfort zones when we come to church and see them. It has been great to get to know individuals among them: often not much more than knowing their name, and having a few brief words with them during the day, but they have Names and Identities, and are not just “displaced people”.
The churches are working with the local authorities toward a solution to this situation, but given who the perpetrators are, it is difficult to see a real political will to re-housing these people in a dignified manner. It seems almost certain that they will be moved from the churches to an interim place, prior to a final home (I use the word guardedly: no structure will ever be provided for them; the most they can expect is a plot of land). But this means subjecting them to yet more trauma as they will have at least 2 more moves ahead of them. And who knows how long the “interim place” will be for….
There is a mood of uncertainty around; no-one knows what will happen next. It is good to be forced to depend on God as our Lord, our Sustainer and our Provider – we have no choice but to depend on Him. We really do take each day at a time, we cannot think ahead, but God has been so faithful. Please keep praying for these people – men and women made in God’s image, but being treated as “trash”(Operation Murambatsvina translates as “Drive out the trash”). Indeed, we cry for Zimbabwe.