Getting to Grips with the Trauma

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By Surihe Gaomas MARIENTAL Wading through the murky mud and slime, she walks cautiously taking care not to slip. The smell of fresh mud and stagnant water is all one could inhale in a place she once used to call her home. “This was the kitchen … look,” said the old woman softly, pointing to a dismantled small hot plate, a rickety wooden table and a damaged gas stove. “I can’t believe that my entire stuff has been ravaged by the floods, what must I do and where do I start?” said muddied 58-year-old Sanna van Neels in her pale cream dress – among her remaining possessions after floodwaters raged through the town and the surrounding farms of Mariental. Her two bed-roomed house was submerged in water and all that remains, besides the dress she wears, are two badly soiled, muddied mattresses, a broken bed, clothes dirtied on the ground and a few crumbled, wet photographs of her family. Grandmother Neels knows she has lost practically everything due to the massive fury of the viscious floodwaters. “I don’t know, what will happen to me now. This is God’s act and I just have to accept it. But what do I feed the kids, the little maizemeal and sugar I had left is gone and we’ve been hungry for the past two days,” said the elderly woman, looking at her four grandchildren with a worried expression. For the hundreds of farm workers at the over 30 farms in and around the surrounding flooded areas of Mariental, the fourth and most biggest flood experienced in the southern town has left them in a precarious position. Recounting the tragedy and the ordeal that she and her family went through, Neels said that the floodwaters came down while she and her family were asleep. “I was woken up by the abrupt shouting of my neighbour saying that we urgently, urgently have to get out of our houses and only take what we can along with us,” said the petite looking woman speaking in Nama. All that she could grab with her at the time was an old black and white photo of her late husband affectionately known as “Groot Oupa.” By the time she walked out, the raging waters had already reached knee-length as she and her four grandchildren dashed to higher ground. Yet upon her return, the devastating shock of the damage to her only property, broke her down to tears. “What has happened and how could this happen?” were the questions the old lady asked. Now, a couple of days after the ordeal, she and the other workers are trying to bake dry their wrecked belongings in the sun. “We are still in a big water flood crisis,” shouted another farm labourer as New Era drove past in assessing the extent of damage to the farm areas. However, officials from the Namibia Red Cross Society, the Regional Council’s Emergency Management Unit as well as just good Samaritans have quickly jumped in to assist the flood-affected families. According to the Red Cross, over 2000 people or even more have been affected by the devastation, as they go about undertaking their immediate relief humanitarian assistance in terms of food, clean drinking water and clothing. At the town’s municipal grounds, heaps and heaps of blankets from Pep Stores are loaded onto a bakkie and dispatched to the affected families taking refuge at different school hostels. Yet, as the relief operation was going on, some families from farms sat on the street corners having not received any assistance for the past three days. Yet they were given the reassurance that help was on the way. “I am disillusioned and unhappy,” said one man sitting with his whole extended family. “This is the fourth flood in Mariental and I just can’t understand why it should happen every six years or so. Why can’t it be stopped,” he said angrily, throwing his arms in the air. “Even the baptism dress of my late daughter has been spoiled for the fourth time again,” said his wife worriedly, adding that this was a huge family tragedy. “Now I must wash it again,” she exclaimed concerned about the current state of affairs. And although the muddy terrain is now drying up and the water completely gone in Mariental, it will definitely take a long time before this trauma would be wiped from the minds of the affected people if ever at all.