By Francis Markus in Chontae Ri, South Hwanghae Province
The rice stalks which Chang Ok Bun, 32, is feeding into her makeshift earthenware stove give off a characteristic smoke with an innocent fragrance of the countryside.
But let’s not for a minute lose sight of the fact that squatting on the ground in front of a tent made from a Red Cross tarpaulin to cook up a meager lunch of maize eked out with radish, is still a pretty miserable experience.
In this tiny village of Chon Tae Ri, there are only three families living in tents, of which Ms. Chang’s is one.
Inside the tent, I can see the cardboard boxes in which Red Cross family kits, consisting of everyday household items, and hygiene kits, were distributed to the family.
There’s also a grinding stone, to help process all the maize which the family are eating. She says it’s only five years old. A faint smile comes to her face when a Korean colleague translates my joke that she could sell it to a gullible foreigner like me, as an antique.
Next to the tent stands the house which she used to share with her husband and two children? It’s been patched up to some extent. But it still looks far from habitable. “I’m scared to live in there,” she says.
One of her two sons, a six-year-old, hurt his leg when the walls fell on him, but he’s OK now, thankfully.
Her family is one of the hundreds for whom the DPRK Red Cross is currently providing construction materials, to help them build houses better able to withstand flooding in the future. They will also receive emergency food to help tide them over the bitterest part of winter.
But even after rigorous selection of the most vulnerable among the vulnerable, hundreds of families will not get such support, because of insufficient funds raised by a recent emergency appeal.
Food and shelter are only the most acute of the difficulties faced by the villagers here, as one of Ms. Chang’s neighbours tells me. “Five or six times a day, I have to fetch water from the well about 25 minutes walk away,” says Song Kyong Sun, 40.
She too is living in a tent, made from a Red Cross tarpaulin, where she’s been busy grinding the maize which is her family’s main staple food at the moment.
I’m interested to know what her observations are about the damage which nature has visited on the community.
“For about sixty days, it was rainy and cloudy the whole time,” she says, describing the weather which culminated in the destruction of her home and those of her fellow villagers.
Clearly, a lot of thinking and action is needed not just on providing new, more solid homes, but on helping the community to prepare for the hazards it faces.
For now, it’s all still a bit much to get one’s head around.
“A strange sky,” she says, looking upwards.