7 April 2019

Zimbabwe: Cyclone Idai - Survivor Struggles With Trauma

Photo: Josh Estey/CARE
Nearly half of Cyclone Idai's victims are children.

When her son left home for St Charles Lwanga Seminary Secondary School in Chimanimani to start Form One, Tsitsi Mazinyana remembers telling him that he should not worry about anything because God is his keeper.

"If anything goes wrong, mom will be the first person to know, God always talks to me," Mazinyana told her son who appeared reluctant to go to boarding school.

Fast forward to March 15 where deadly storms caused by Cyclone Idai claimed the lives of two Form One pupils and a security guard at St Charles Lwanga Secondary School.

After the disaster and the events that took place in her life before the floods, the 34-year-old mother and member of the Zaoga Forward in Faith Church now realises how prophetic her words were.

A week before the disaster, Mazinyana had a strange dream. Like she had said before, she was the first to know of the danger lying ahead for her son.

"So it happened that I started having strange dreams the week beginning March 11 -- a week before the cyclone," Mazinyana narrated.

"I slept for very few minutes and dreamt that my son was surrounded by lions.

"I tried to rescue him, but the lions charged at me.

"I cried until I heard a voice telling me that there was nothing I could do to save him from the lions -- only prayers would save him.

"I told my sister about the dream, but we both failed to interpret it.

"I started waking up every day at 5am to pray for my son.

"Every evening, I could hear a message telling me to pray holding my children (her son and Matthew Mashanda (12), her sister's son who is also in Form One).

"So I took his T-shirt and every day, I would pray holding it."

Mazinyana remembers how she would put Psalms 121, 91 and Isaiah 54 on her WhatsApp status to pray for her son's protection.

She also sent a message to the St Charles Lwanga School deputy headmaster a day before the cyclone ravaged the province, advising him to tell her son to read the same verse.

One of the messages on her WhatsApp status before the disaster read: "My son, because you have made the Lord your dwelling place, the most high who is your refuge, no evil shall befall you, no plaque shall come near your tent, for God will command His Angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.

"On their hands they will bear you up, least you strike your foot against a stone; you will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under your foot.

"God will deliver you, He will protect you because you know His name, when you call to Him, he will answer, He will be with you, in trouble He will rescue you and honour you with long life and He will satisfy you and He will show you salvation."

The deputy headmaster did not deliver the message to Prince because of a power blackout caused by the heavy rains.

"On Friday, at around 8:30pm, I was awakened by a message from my pastor who told us to pray for protection against the cyclone and on Saturday, I saw the message that the school had been destroyed, especially the dormitory where my child stayed. This is when everything started to make sense," Mazinyana said.

"When people said the Holy Spirit communicates with people, I did not know how.

"When people are young in faith they do not understand this.

"My son did not want to go to school and I assured him that God would communicate with him," Mazinyana said.

"I believe those prayers saved my child."

According to Mazinyana, her son and only child, whose father is late, survived by a whisker after the boys joined their bunker beds to warm each other in the dark.

The boys were only awakened by tree roots crashing on their feet after the dormitory was ripped open, allowing debris and mud to flood the room.

"He used to sleep on the top bed, but they decided to warm each other by sleeping on the bottom bed," Mazinyana said.

"He said he woke up when his foot rubbed against tree roots being deposited by the floods.

"There were mudslides and the water was filling up the room, but in that darkness they managed to jump to the top bed and then to a shelf on top of the beds where trucks were kept. This is how they survived.

"If he had slept at his usual place, he would have been tempted to jump into the mud in that darkness and sink into the mud and die. The two pupils who died were submerged by the mud.

"Everything was destroyed. All that he brought home was a pair of pyjamas he was wearing and a tracksuit he was given by one of the pupils."

However, Mazinyana said she was not worried that her son brought nothing back home from school because she was grateful that he lived to tell the tale.

Mazinyana described how traumatised her son has become that he now panics at every sound.

"The day he came back, he could not sleep. He said he was seeing the images of what happened, and the image of the security guard whom they saw with his head crushed in the dining room that was first hit by huge boulders, weakening their force before they landed on the dormitory," she said.

"I tried to get him to sleep, he refused and later asked me to sit with him until he slept.

"When I dozed off, he remained awake the whole night, sleep deserted him.

"Right now, I am sharing a bed with him, His is still too scared to be by himself.

"He always tells me that the events of March 15 keep playing in his mind."

On Friday the government said 344 people had been confirmed dead and 257 were still missing in the wake of Cyclone Idai.

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