Benedito peered through the door of his little one room hut. The beautiful Limpopo River Valley on which his little family farm was situated was hardly recognizable after the continuous downpour of the past two weeks.
“Benedito, come take your little sister for a while. I’m so tired.”
Benedito tore his eyes away from the mesmerizing rain through the gloomy hut to where his mother sat on a straw mat. Her heavily pregnant body was not quite fast enough to keep up with Selina’s toddler energy which had been pent up for so many days. Benedito caught Selina just before she crawled off the mat into the mud.
“Come here, little one.” He raised Selina onto his own small 6-year old back while his mother tied the child on with her capulana. She wandered to the open doorway rubbing her back. He watched her wipe away her own tears of frustration. Suddenly, her whole body tensed up. Frightened now, he looked back out the door. Stumbling toward them in the rain came his Grandma.
“Quick, Cecilia! Grab the children. We must find somewhere higher. The water has risen up past the pathway at the edge of your yard. My house is already under water. Yours will be next!”
“But, Mother, where can we go? Ours is the highest spot around!”
Benedito looked up at his mother and grandmother with fear sparking in his eyes.
“Mama, what about my climbing tree? Jose and I made a lookout up there.”
The older ladies looked at each other in despair. The moment of indecision ended abruptly as the water now flowed quickly toward their hut.
“Hurry, grab anything you can that can provide us some shelter.” Cecilia grabbed a couple of cloths and mats. “Mother, rip that piece of plastic off the roof. We’ll need it.”
The ankle deep water splashed at their legs as they ran to the tree and carefully climbed the slippery branches. Re-adjusting the boards and scraps of metal sheeting, the shivering family huddled together under the plastic. As darkness fell over the valley, Benedito caught a last glimpse of his straw-roofed house, now completely flooded. Cuddling his sister as close as he could, Benedito’s weary eyes finally closed with the pounding rain beating the plastic sheet on his back.
Hunger and cold combined to waken the children early the next morning. Not only had the rain not let up, but the wind now started to blow their little tree stand causing the while thing to sway to and fro. Glancing over at his mother for reassurance, he saw instead tears in her eyes as she continued her now habitual motion of rubbing her back and belly.
The next two days passed in misery. The little food they had been able to scrounge together had long since disappeared. Hunger, fear, and misery jousted for the place of preeminence in their hearts. Cecilia’s pains became gradually more intense and regular as the hours dragged on. Not understanding fully the drama unfolding with his mama, Benedito tried valiantly to be brave and keep his little sister safe while his grandma tended to his mother.
Suddenly, he heard a faint noise in the distance. What was that? Could somebody be coming to help?
But instead of coming closer the noise faded away. Darkness descended once more. The night was filled with moans from his mama and quiet reassuring sounds from his grandma. Weakened with hunger and fatigue, Benedito curled up and fell into a dreamless sleep.
The next morning he awoke with a start. All was confusion around him. The rain seemed to have eased, but his grandma was shouting and waving. A loud beating noise seemed to envelop his sleep muddled brain. What was happening?
Benedito rubbed his eyes as he saw a man wearing a helmet being lowered on a rope towards their platform. A huge machine floated above them, the wind beating on his tree. His rescuer’s bright eyes took everything in quickly. For Benedito, everything became a blur. One minute they were hanging onto the tree for their lives. The next minute, he and his sister were whisked away in the helicopter to safety. Not too long after, he was finally reunited with his grandma and Mama. But now there was a newcomer! Bundled in a warm, dry cloth was his new baby sister, Rositha Chirindza.
Benedito smiled. “Welcome to the valley, littlest one. One day we’ll come back. You’ll see!”
And the world cheered.
* Inspired by the events of March 1, 2000 in the Limpopo River Valley, Mozambique.
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