Last year it wasn’t even raining here but it rained in Mwesha, about 35km upstream. It was at night and we heard a big noise from the river and people were crying “water! water is coming!” It kept coming for three days and our fields were totally flooded. There was so much water that people were catching fish with their bare hands in the fields. Big snakes were being washed down with the water and a woman was bitten and died when she went to get firewood.
I used to have a big garden of banana trees growing along the river, but they were all washed away. Now I have only one or two trees left. The flood also washed away our rice seeds and cassava, so we had to find money for more seeds and plant again, but by then it was too late and the crops gave a very small yield.
If we don’t have rice or bananas we only eat once a day, and then it is only nshima (maize porridge). Before we used to catch fish from the Rukuru and mix it with bananas to make a dish called mbalaga. But since the floods the river is very shallow and the sands are too hot so the fish don’t come here anymore. Now the only fish we have comes from Lake Malawi. We used to buy a big mpasa (fish) for 70 kwacha (R3.50) but now it is 1500 kwacha (R75) and we cant afford that, so we don’t get protein anymore. We would dry bananas and pound them into flour and eat it with chambiko (sour milk). But now there are no more cattle in the village, because last of last year there was an outbreak of cattle sickness. They used to graze by the river but now there is no more green grass for them to eat.
As HIV-positive people we are supposed to eat six times a day and have a variety of foods but that is impossible. I am on antiretroviral treatment and they say nutrition is very important, but what can I do?
Now I support my children by selling tea and crocheted doilies in the market, but I am still suffering. I have three children in secondary school and it is really difficult to pay school fees for all of them
This problem of climate change is affecting girls and women a lot. In the past girls had ways of having money to be a woman, and they would use this to buy toiletries and clothes. We would sell banana fritters at the market, but now there are no more bananas so the girls just go for prostitution.
We have a platinum mine and a coal mine nearby, and the men come to Karonga for shopping and then they sleep in town. The barmen organise girls for them.
Our men don’t support their families – it is a woman’s job to feed the children so we do whatever we have to. A man can always find 50 kwacha (R2.50) to buy kachasu (local beer) and then he will come home drunk and demand food. If there is no food he will start to kick you or even chase you from the house. If there is no salt he will tell you to find ways and means to get it. Some women do sex work and others do piecework in other people’s fields – and this is after they have worked a full day in their own fields and then collected firewood, and fetched water and cooked and taken care of the children.
The only answer is for us to have a women’s micro loan scheme. If I had some cash I would set up small business buying usipa (small fish) from the lake, and then I would dry them and sell them at the market.
I am the chairperson of the Karonga Women’s Forum and we have more than 3 000 members. I’d say about one third of the women in this district are HIV-positive but many are too afraid to come openly and admit it. There is still a lot of discrimination, especially in the villages. For example, if there is a microfinance scheme they will say they don’t want us in the group because we are sick and will die soon.
We have a number of activities such as support for survivors of sexual violence, and group that teaches girls to be leaders. People think a woman cannot lead a man, so we also have a ‘women in politics’ group. We supported a woman called Beatrice Nyankonde, and she is now running for MP.
We are volunteers and we all look after each other. We care for orphans and victims of sexual violence. If a woman is sick or is an elderly widow, we will take turns to work in her fields and help her with household chores or cook for her. We weave mats, knit baby jackets and crochet doilies to try raise some money because we have no resources except our own minds and our own hands.”