December 19, 2008
Half a year is all I have spent in Africa and yet, to me, she is a lifelong friend. She is one of those faithful, complex friends who stubbornly refuses to let me to be anything less than all I can be in this life. Mozambique, a land of magnificent beaches and denuded, dusty wasteland has been the key to this friendship and, as she attempts to raise her head and smile at her future, I yearn to assist her somehow.
I hear talk of Africa and lean impolitely to eavesdrop anyone speaking of my beloved friend. I hear her music and my heart begins once more to beat to her rhythm. I see photos of her dark brown children and ache to be there again, cradling her babies and telling them all will be well.
I will be her friend forever and that will never change.
It is inexplicable. I do not understand. My time in Mozambique was fraught with struggles. The challenges to my physical body were great and the pressures upon my soul overwhelming. The intolerable heat melted my stamina, day after stifling day. Red dirt stained my feet and sweat tracked its way through the layers of grimy dust that collected on my skin. Acrid smoke burned my nostrils as the hot wind fed the piles of smouldering garbage on the streets. Malaria-ridden mosquitoes mocked me with their droning buzz at sunset and through each stifling night.
How could I love Africa? How could I not.
Mozambique, so poor and yet so rich, somehow won my heart. Her people are her future, the hope of a nation that has been bowed low by years of war and floods. She has been victorious in some monumental battles in her history but now fights the enemy of poverty which obstinately refuses to release its hold.
Her mothers sit in the dust on the roadside, selling what meagre produce they have gleaned from the bare earth. Her children have only a vague hope of learning more than the most basic literacy and numeracy skills. Her babies are so often deserted, abandoned for the sake of one less mouth to feed, left at the police station or on the street or under a tree or in a plastic bag in a dumpster. Her men change women and families at will, evicting the children of other fathers and forcing these little ones away from their mothers and onto the streets.
Her people, with downcast faces and pain-filled eyes, long for better but have not seen it in their lifetime. How to hope, how to grow, how to aim for better when there is no picture in their minds of how it looks? Hopelessness is a disease here, a virulent, cancerous growth attacking the soul of a nation with little strength left to fight.
And so I look, and I listen, and I refuse to let my heart stop feeling even when I think the pain will kill me. This pain – this ache for the people of Mozambique – is nothing when compared to their suffering. It is an itching flea bite compared to the gnawing, deathly throb of a lifetime of hunger and defeat. I have lived a rich, fulfilling, blessed life and have been given much. Is it possible that, from this well of good things I have received, I may be able, just for a time, to pour some of the good of that into a land that needs so much?
I am not arrogant enough to imagine making much difference. I am only one. My heart is full but how much can just one full heart achieve? So I revisit the memories I hold so close and I begin to dream once more. One smile on a baby’s face as she feeds on the nourishing bottle I hold. One squeal of delight as a schoolboy reads his first page of text at my coaxing. One high five from the teen seeing his first birthday cake and candles as his friends chant, “Feliz Aniversario”. One wildly delighted scream as a child from the streets tries to hold onto his very own cake of soap in the shower. One song sung with joy in the garbage dump as the hungry are fed and their rotting skin infections and weeping, mouldy scalps are tended to. One wave from a twelve-ear-old working the streets who is going home for the night with a pocketful of change, released from seeking customers just for a while.
One day, one person, one opportunity at a time is all I can give, and it is enough for now.
The heartbeat of this nation grows stronger by the day. There is undeniably much hard work to be done and much distance to be travelled on the road to growth and prosperity. Healing is coming surely but too slowly for the many street kids and abandoned babies needing food, shelter and love. And it is from this source that I hear my name being called.
I heed her once again, this dear friend whispering my name and longing for my attention. And so I will return to the place where my heart began to beat to a new rhythm. I return, unsure of what to expect this time around but knowing that, as much as I can give to this friend in need, much more will be returned to me. No matter how much I pour out for my friend, she pours more into me than I can contain.
This is the way of true friendship and I will be her friend forever.
August 8, 2008
Pitstop: when a racing car stops in the pits for refueling.
Layover: the time during a long trip that is spent at a terminal after disembarking one vehicle and waiting to board the next.
I boarded the shaky old Air Mozambique plane in Maputo two months ago. I thought I was popping home to Australia briefly to bring whatever support and refreshing I could to my weary family, after months of illness and struggles back home. I didn’t want to disrupt the rhythm that was beginning to develop in my work in Zimpeto, but knew that a quick trip back to my family was necessary.
The night before my departure, I sat on the floor of the Baby House, farewelling the one-year-olds as Francisco dozed in my lap, Alirio gulped from the bottle I held to his lips and Antonio climbed along my left leg, leaving a wet track of drool to mark his movements. I promised to return soon, telling them not to miss me even as I told my own heart to shut down now rather than endure the pain of walking away and not seeing these precious babes for a few weeks.
And then I left them, trudging through the sand as my heart began to ache. I finished packing, slept badly and made my way to the airport next morning. As the rattly plane took off to the north, I held my breath, tracking my way over the broken tin roofs of the Maputo outskirts. I cried for the babes I would not see for weeks and, even then, began to make plans for when I returned in July.
Ah, the best-laid plans…
Within a week of touchdown in Sydney, I was in a hospital bed, paralysed and unable to walk or write or even to smile. I had been hit hard and suddenly by an illness that gave no warning of its imminent arrival nor of its devastating power. Guillain-Barré Syndrome is a rare, non-contagious disease of the immune system, affecting the nerves which lose their ability to send messages to the muscles which, in turn, stop working.
After a harrowing day of invasive tests and endless, probing questions in the emergency room, I was admitted to hospital. From that moment, when the battle lines were drawn and the enemy’s name had been clearly established, I began to fight with every morsel of strength and determination I could muster. And with the steadfast support of my already worn-out family and the sustaining prayers of friends all over the world, there I stayed for six weeks.
This was a layover I never saw coming.
One day, tingling toes. The next, numb fingers. A few days later, paralysed legs. My body was betraying me with no warning, no alarm bells, no quiet whisper to prepare me for the coming trial. I was being betrayed by a body that had always served me well. One moment I was fine then, suddenly, my toes were buzzing. This body just stopped working, as if rebelling against some unseen enemy that I racked my brain to identify and blame.
Even in the diagnosis, there was nothing at which to aim my wrath, no virus invading, no bacteria causing this breakdown of my nerves which refused to do their job of making my muscles move. My body was attacking itself. My own immune system was in rebellion, eating away at my nerves’ endings, rendering them powerless to do their job of firing off messages to my now lifeless muscles.
“Your body will heal itself.” “Your nerves will regrow on their own.” “Soon, the deterioration will cease and you’ll begin to get better.” In other words, “We don’t know how to fix this”.
And so we waited.
For two very long, tense weeks, the paralysis spread, just a little each day. And somehow I coped. I refused to consider the worst. I could not allow my mind to think the unthinkable. I rejected fear and I snubbed depression. In my mind, I hunted for every positive thought and every faith–filled verse of victory and healing I could remember from my bible. And I mulled on these hour after hour, even as my blood was being pumped with round upon round of hopefully, possibly, maybe life-giving immunoglobulin, retrieved from the healthy blood of a charitable donor.
Note to self: give blood. Just do it.
Hope soared in the second week as my legs began to gain some strength. I’d hit bottom and was coming back up. I could relax. The worst was over and only good would come to me from here.
The next morning I looked in the mirror, horrified. I could not find my smile. My face was lifeless, vacant of expression or movement even as I tried to force my muscles to act. The weapon I used more than any other to fend off melancholy and hopelessness had left me. I was certain that someone was playing a sick joke, returning my legs then stealing my grin. I was smiling on the inside but my face would not obey. I looked tired and sad and defeated.
I wanted to shout, “I have not lost this battle! I’m going to win! I’m still smiling on the inside!” If I’d been able, I would have made fists with my weakened hands and shook them at my unseen enemy, threatening my invisible foe. Another sick joke: I could not make a fist.
I was scared for the first time. What if my supporters saw my dull expression and began to doubt, to falter in their conviction that all would be well? I needed them to be unwavering and resolute on my behalf. Our determination fed off each other. Please, God, help them to keep smiling for me.
And they did. My team, my cheer squad, my fellow warriors, stood firm, stubborn in their support. They kept smiling when I could not. My family, my friends, even my exhausted, indomitable nurses, kept smiling and laughing and feeding me with their good humour and faith. And so, because of them, I was able to keep smiling on the inside.
My smile deserted me for only a few days and then it made its sunny return. From that moment, I knew that I knew that all would be well. I continued to heal, regaining movement in my arms and legs over a period of weeks. My smile grew stronger daily and, when my wink returned, I knew the sun was shining more hotly than ever, bringing healing in every bright ray.
Each morning when I woke, I’d lie in bed and test my limbs: fingers first, then hands and arms. Move on now to toes then feet and legs. And, finally, my face. Smile… big… bigger… blow a kiss, make a fish-face, blink and wink. Check… check… check!
By this time, hospital had become a comfortable place for me. I began to fret about having to leave soon. What if I fall? What if there’s no one to help me? What if…? What if…? My weakened body was housing two different personalities: one brave and fearless, ready to go home and start life all over again, and one who wanted to stay in hospital where everything had become routine and predictable and safe, where I was cared for and where there were few demands placed upon me. My nurses had become my new best friends and I was having difficulty imagining how I would cope without them.
But, cope I have. Two weeks since discharge and all is well. My body grows stronger daily and only occasionally lets me down. The 14 stairs to my room have taunted me into action and helped me to work harder than I thought I could. And my heart has begun once more to wander back to the hauntingly beautiful land I left two months ago as I wonder what comes next for me.
One step at a time. The world awaits and will be there, waiting still, when I am well again.
This pitstop was not one I saw coming. If I had, I would have driven by, as fast as I could. But life had other plans. And I, despite being pummeled and bruised, was not defeated. In fact, I am now able to embrace the months of quiet and solitude handed to me so surprisingly. As my body rehabilitates, my soul has time to do the same.
This time is a gift given in the most unusual of ways. And this pitstop allows me time and space for the refueling my spirit needs before the next leg of the race we so lightly call life, which I will strive to treat with the greatest respect from here on in.
Here’s to life.
May 29, 2008
Four months. That’s all the time it’s taken. I have been lost and I’ve been found in just a few short months. I have been lost to the old world I inhabited for most of my life. And I have been found, discovering the depths of God’s goodness and His resources hidden deep within me as I have shifted and adjusted my stance to find my balance in this dusty brown land.
I am torn between two lives and I am shaken to the core by all that I have seen and experienced. I will never look at the world or myself, or at God, in the same way again. The shift has been colossal for heart and for mind, and I know I am not yet through this inner renovation.
In a week I will travel back, just briefly, to the home I left in January. Already I am disconcerted by the culture shock setting in, even before I’ve thought about dragging the suitcase from under the bed.
I know that everything will look different from now on. It is unsettling, to say the least. Viewing the world from here in Mozambique, I have discovered a thousand colours I never knew existed and now all the world has taken on the hue of this fresh palette. Some of it is to my liking and some does not suit my tastes at all. Everything is different and bears little resemblance to the world from which I came. This is the point at which the fiery testing and the rich adventure of new exploits collide.
I look back and realise that the Egypt I left behind seems dull and unexciting, holding no challenge for me now when measured against the tests I’ve faced here. I cannot go back.
I cannot stay where I am – transition is all about getting somewhere. Settling down to inhabit the place of transition is a dangerous plan because, in transition, everything is out of balance and nothing is clear.
I look ahead and see mountains so huge that they will be impassable with anything less than superhuman effort and the miracle of God’s perfect leading.
And so I move forward one small step at a time, refusing to glance back at the comfort and ease of the land I have left, and forcing myself not to panic as I look ahead to a land I do not yet recognise.
The old world is lost to me forever. The new land beckons but is not yet clear. I take one step and then another, trusting in the leading of the Creator, over whom time and distance hold no sway.
My life is no longer my own and so I follow the One who goes before me. To where, I know not, except that He is ahead of me, shining a light to guide me. As I journey into the unknown, I follow His lead and I trust.
He is the beginning and the end. That’s all I need to know.
May 18, 2008
“Been thinking about you. Does it feel like you have slipped through into a different world that actually bears far more relation to the majority of humanity than the rarefied life we enjoy here in Australia?? (Just a thought …)”
My response (copied below with some edits) surprised me. I tend to err on the light side when it comes to describing regular Mozambican life. It’s hard to know what people want to hear and how much of “the whole truth” a hugely varied audience can cope with, without disturbance.
Quite possibly, though, this is the height of arrogance, thinking it my role to control the flow of information about a nation bent low by so many years of unutterable suffering. Perhaps disturbance is why I’m here. To challenge the status quo. To speak up for those who have no voice by telling the truth plainly, without embellishment.
The truth I confront every day in this nation needs no embellishment.
Perhaps this is the most important job I have ever had – describing what I see. And perhaps those who read will be stirred – to give, to go, to pray, to send. To allow the plain truth to sink so deeply that their hearts are torn in two, the way God’s heart breaks each minute of every day for the people of Mozambique.
Following is my response to my friend’s question:
“Interesting question. I think I'm in some denial because life for most people here is just so unimaginably hard. I can't process it within the framework I have for understanding what a ‘good’ life is. I hear of someone I know, or know of, dying every week. Many of the kids in the school live in canesu huts - straw walls and, if they're lucky, a tin roof held down with rocks, usually leaking. I work with kids in the school who don't know they live in Mozambique and who go home into the community at the end of the day to find rats roaming through the puddles on the floor of a one room hut. I teach teachers who've never seen a jigsaw puzzle or a map of the world.
“We received a one-year-old a few weeks ago who had been cared for each day for months by her siblings - three and five years old - while the teenage sister went to school. She was literally dying of starvation. No idea how to process that, so I think I just don't.
“Some of our babies have big scars on their bellies where a witch doctor has cut them as part of some ritual.
“One of our babies, Lucia, was here for a couple of months when her mother suddenly showed up. She told us that her family had stolen Lucia and given her away as retribution for something the mother had done. How do I process living in a culture where this happens?
“No matter where I go, even here at the Centre behind barbed wire with guards on duty 24 hours a day, I can't put my keys or other belongings down because they will vanish instantly.
“There seem to be no rules to live by and no law that can be enforced. The police pull you over and demand bribes to let you go. Men swap women like cars and children seem to be viewed as dispensable and of little value. How to process all of this, to live here, to love and bless and stay full of hope? How to offer dignity to a people so beaten down by years of starvation - physical, emotional, spiritual - that they've lost the ability to value themselves and each other?
“And how to feel anything other than powerless in the face of all this?
“I'm thankful every day that I'm here, living in the midst of it, albeit in my cushy apartment with running hot water, tiled floor, electricity and a screen door. I LOVE my screen door! And I know that, without some comforts and ease to my lifestyle here, I’m not sure I’d last the long haul. Sad but true. I wish it weren't.”
The Bible says that to whom much is given, much is required. I have been given much. This year, this challenge, this time away from all that is familiar and comfortable and predictable – this is one of the most precious gifts I’ve ever received. The question for me now is, “What do I do with this gift?” How do I respond?
All I know to do right now is walk carefully through each day, one step at a time, and every time an opportunity presents itself, grasp it violently and with both hands and refuse to let go until I’ve given love away, the very best way I know how.
May 9, 2008
Mozambican mice are so smart that they feasted on the cardboard mouse bait box, leaving the bait behind.
Mozambican mice are so bold that one of them, in broad daylight, ran straight through my legs to escape my clutches.
Mozambican mice have great taste. They loved eating my favourite purple sweater.
Mozambican mice are so brazen that they built a nest in Sarah's favourite shoes.
Mozambican mice are so ingenious that they found the paracetamol tablets in the plastic blister pack, in the cardboard box, in the pocket of my handbag in the top drawer, then chewed on a pain killer. Perhaps to ease the pain caused by eating purple wool.
I have declared war on mice. I and my comrades stood in our kitchen and declared war. Out loud and with great passion. When did mice get so smart? They can have the cornflakes. They can have the popcorn and the noodles and the teabags and the nuts. But they will not – ever – get to my sweaters again.
I will not surrender!
My purple sweater now has a three-inch hole eaten into the front. Could they have eaten the back? Could they have chosen the boring black number on top? No. These mice have taste as well as street smarts.
So, as winter approaches and I discover that Mozambique actually does get chilly for a few months of the year, I mourn this loss and search for unique and creative ways to get rid of mice. Perhaps my fancy new $10 “Electonik Insekt Fanger” will work. This is a dodgy piece of equipment that looks like a tennis racquet but is battery-powered and live-wired instead of strung. You can actually hear the “zap” as you swat the malaria-ridden mosquitoes. Very exciting! And extremely satisfying.
Now to find that pesky mouse…
April 29, 2008
Rosinha. Thirteen years old. Found wandering aimlessly, naked, down the middle of the main road outside the Centre, late at night. She said she’d been walking forever. She said she’d been thrown out of home by her father. She was scared.
Rosinha was obviously traumatised. She was not in her right mind. She would not sit down and she could not stand still. She prowled back and forth endlessly like a trapped animal. She talked on and on without making sense. She did not know where she was. She could not tell us where she lived or what had happened to her.
Rosinha, to me, is the personification of the darker depths of this nation and a reminder of the hidden suffering of so many children still out of our reach. I cannot imagine what she had been through. She is just a child.
We could not take her in to the Girls’ Dorm overnight. We would not risk the safety of our resident children. Rosinha was offered warm clothes and a place to rest, protected in the guards’ hut at the front gate. She would be safe until morning when some decisions could be made.
But she did not stay. Rosinha came within our reach for just a few hours but, by morning, she was gone. Later in the day, we heard reports of her being seen many miles down the road.
Nothing here is simple. Western assumptions of civilisation and safety do not apply. The rules we play by in this developing nation are different and oftentimes unfathomable to us.
And so, this night, one desperate, damaged, broken-hearted little girl walked back out into the night, alone.
When I found out that she was gone, a chill ran through me. I cannot yet think of her without feeling gut-wrenchingly guilty. Perhaps we did not serve the one in front of us as we are called here to do. Perhaps we missed an opportunity. Perhaps we could have done more.
Or, perhaps we had to confront and acknowledge the fact that sometimes we can do nothing in the moment when up against such a dark and giant foe. And that perhaps the big picture is what we must focus on.
This explanation does not satisfy me or ease my soul one bit. Nothing is simple here, or straightforward, or predictable. But how does one deal with the fact that a child in desperate need was within our grasp then lost once more to the streets from which she came?
I pray that these feelings of culpability and discomfort stay with me as a reminder for as long as I can picture a thirteen-year-old girl drifting, all alone, through the Mozambican night.
April 20, 2008
How to teach a teacher to manage a class of 69 twelve year olds and to teach well at the same time? This is just one of the questions I confronted during three mornings of seminars last week. My job was to inspire, encourage and envision 24 Mozambican primary school teachers.
With classes of up to 70 students, very little room and few resources, the children do little but sit shoulder-to-shoulder on their wooden benches, hour after hour, repeating new learning parrot-fashion and copying from the board. The teachers have their routine down pat: “Sit. Stay. Be quiet” while banging a rod on the desk. The occasional ear-tugging is the back-up strategy. [One of the Year 1 classes, above, has only 36 students which is small by Mozambican standards. Their teacher is Professor Jossefa.]
I dare not judge. The largest class I’ve ever taught is 28. Back home in Australia, my classrooms had running water, air conditioning and glass in the windows. The students always had coloured pencils, paints, story books to read and room to move. Most had at least one parent or caregiver willing to read with them each evening. The teachers I worked with had finished high school and been to university.
Life in a developing nation is just that – developing. I can judge by the standards I have learned to work to in the prosperous “developed nation” from which I come. Or, I can lay aside all that is familiar and allow God to renew my thinking about such topics as education.
Education is all about finding the level of skill or knowledge in one’s students in a particular area and raising it, one small step at a time. My role here is to do the same with the teachers. And my first goal? To raise the bar of expectations the teachers have about their own jobs, and to stir up some joy. To give the teachers permission to enjoy their work and their students, as they begin to believe that a nation can be changed by quality education. And to encourage them to dream.
The teachers were given opportunity to review the basics of teaching strategies and behaviour management. I used dried beans as rewards for hard work and thoughtful input until one participant pointed out that many of them could not afford to give away even a few beans a day. Strike 1. I referred to the teachers “getting out of bed to come to work each day”, only to realise later that some of the teachers do not own a bed. Strike 2. I gave them name tags to wear only to discover that many of them did not know how to peel off the back or where to stick them. Strike 3. Ah, the great cultural divide!
The teachers are not the only ones learning slowly, one step at a time.
They were also taught to throw a frisbee and to do jigsaw puzzles. Some learned that envelopes need licking to stick, that a biro has to be pushed on the end to work and that blu tac is used to attach things to walls.
With time and thought and much prayer, I must translate my knowledge not only into a new language, but also into a form that is relevant to teachers who have only chalk and a blackboard to teach with each day and, on the whole, very limited education themselves.
Next holidays, there will be more seminars. And more games and resources and theory and strategising about how to teach 69 students all at once. Please pray for the teachers here and for their students. Developing nations, to develop, need good education. Good education comes only with great teachers. And this is my dream for them.
April 4, 2008
Until he is stronger, he will be kept away from the Baby House, where many children have been sick in past weeks. So, it falls to the missionaries to look after him in the meantime. Nobody is complaining and everybody wants him!
Two new babies have arrived this week - Lucia [top] via the police and Ilirio [bottom] from the hospital. Both are wonderfully healthy, which is unusual for new babies brought in. Lucia, 10 months, is set to become the life of the Baby House, with a delightful personality and an infectious laugh. The Baby House is now full - 40 children - so please pray for God's strategies for the next steps.
It is estimated that there will one million orphans in Mozambique by 2010. We are blessed to have 350 of these precious children in our care, 40 of whom are under five. Our primary school attracts another 600 children to our Centre each day. We serve just one at a time as God brings them to us and trust Him to expand the work in His perfect will and timing.
This is the noisiest, most active and exciting place to be. There are children everywhere! Living in the midst of them is, on some days, incredibly fulfilling and, on other days, a huge challenge. Of course living with 350 children would hold its challenges! And I would choose to be nowhere else. I am daily thankful and amazed that God has led me here and asked me stay. I am blessed beyond measure and thankful for each moment.
March 21, 2008
I write today with a heavy heart and sad news.
One of our dear babies, Irene, died suddenly during the night. Irene (bottom row, second from right) was 10 months old and had been here at Zimpeto for about 4 months. Her mother abandoned her and disappeared, so her grandparents took her in but were too poor to care for her properly. They brought her here very sick and skinny and, in past months, she had put on much weight and was doing well.
All is not completely clear yet but the doctors suspect she contracted malaria and, before there was time to treat the malaria thoroughly, many babies in the Baby House came down with a stomach/diarrhoea bug. Irene was one of these and she was not strong enough to deal with it. She died on the way to the hospital at around midnight, in the arms of Tracey, our Baby House Director.
Irene's grandparents are being informed this morning. Please pray for them and for all here at Zimpeto. Pray particularly for the medical staff and Baby House workers: Tracey, Neil and Hilda (assisting Tracey), Janni and Solange (nurses) and the tias (carers).
I sit here this morning listening to the noise of the school children having recess, playing clapping games, singing and chasing each other, preparing excitedly for an Easter long weekend. We are here to protect such as these, and it's an honour beyond words. The Baby House is a particularly precious place to be, where the littlest and most dependent of our charges live.
There is no simple way to explain the death of a baby. There is no way to fully express the fragility of life here in Mozambique. Nothing is predictable or controllable or easy. And so we hide under the shadow of the wings of the Father, continuing to move forward one step at a time, caring for each little one He has brought to us. This is all we know to do - love the ones in front of us in the moment and do our best for each.
There are 37 children in the Baby House, some strong and healthy and some fragile, sick and weak. Namais has just, in the last hour, been taken to the hospital, also very ill. Please pray for him, for all our little Baby House residents, for our team, the Baby House staff, and our leaders Ros and Steve.
Pray for the Father's covering on this most amazing of places.
February 23, 2008
"Let the children alone,
Tonight I met Pedrito. Eleven years old. Wearing blue jeans and a bright yellow t-shirt. He carried a basket of peanuts and a little plastic container to scoop them into the hands of his customers. He had a sweet smile that drew my attention and kind eyes, alert and sad all at once.
Pedrito was wandering the streets of downtown Maputo at 8pm. He was all alone. He silently edged up to our group of four– three women from America, Botswana and Australia and a young man from England.
When he joined us, Pedrito offered us peanuts for sale. We smiled and refused him gently. He then moved closer to our young English friend, the only male in the group, and made the offer again, standing nearer to him.
I watched as Dan bantered with Pedrito, one speaking English and the other Portuguese and still managing to share a joke.
Pedrito looked like any normal, healthy eleven year old boy. He smiled. He laughed. He was quietly friendly. He stood patiently near Dan even after we refused to purchase any nuts from him.
It was Katie who worked it out first. Katie, who works with girls from the streets, helping these young women find a way to live that does not require that they sell their bodies to strangers. Katie watched and listened and put two and two together.
The girls working the streets often carry a basket of peanuts as a covert sign of availability.
Pedrito’s goal for the evening was not to sell peanuts. Under Katie’s gentle questioning, he freely admitted that he was offering himself for sale tonight. That he was selling his body for money. That his name was not really Pedrito. That he wasn’t selling nuts. That his mother was waiting for him at home.
We do not know if Pedrito chose this work to make some money for himself or his family, or if he is being forced to work the streets of Maputo. We don’t know where Pedrito lives. Katie gave him some money and told him to go straight home. We prayed that this money would be enough to get him off the streets for one night. He wanted no more help from us than a pocketful of change.
We do know that, tonight, God put us in the same place at the same time as this precious boy. This was a divine encounter of the highest order. We prayed that the Presence of Jesus would go with him, that he would be touched by the love given to him in a brief encounter with us and that the gift from some strangers of a night off the streets would make him think. We prayed that the Holy Spirit would whisper love to him and lead him to freedom.
A few minutes later and a few blocks away, we saw him again. We watched from a distance as Pedrito crossed the road. A man in a parked car nearby called to him. I held my breath. Pedrito went up to the car window, they talked for a moment, and then he turned away. He walked up the street and noticed us watching him. He smiled and laughed. He was going home.
For this one night, he was safe. What will tomorrow bring for Pedrito and his friends?
February 22, 2008
I’ve been asked several times this week, “What is the hardest thing about living in Mozambique?” I had to think for a few minutes. The transition from my life in Australia to living here in Maputo has been quite smooth and uneventful thus far, aside from a day or two of rioting at our front gates. This had nothing whatsoever to do with us here at Zimpeto. Honestly.
The uninvited guests in my room haven’t troubled me particularly – two geckoes, one large frog, a myriad of cockroaches (may they rest in peace) and, last night, a mouse brazenly chewing on a cardboard box in the corner. I have become quite unexpectedly blasé about such visitors and suspect that they’re more bothered by me than I am by them.
The food is fine – so long as it’s thoroughly washed due to a high prevalence of cholera in the area at the moment. The weather is hot and humid and unseasonably blustery but quite manageable. The noise of 350 children playing after school, many of them choosing the sand just beyond my front window as their ideal play area, generally delights me and occasionally forces me to reach for my headphones and some loud music.
All in all, there is a rhythm developing to my days here at Zimpeto that is beginning to feel like the start of something wonderful.
Even as I say this, though, I feel a sadness rise as I think of home today. This is the first day since I moved here a month ago that I wish I were there.
My big brother gets married today. It will be a wonderful celebration and my family will all be together. And as I, here in Mozambique, think of not being there to witness this special event, I’m sad. I’d like to give my brother and his wonderful bride my love in person, to hug them and wish them well. They know my thoughts and my love are with them even if I’m not.
It will be a joyous and special day. Whether together in one place or separated by distance, family is family and nothing changes that. I am blessed to have a family like mine, parents and brothers and sister who love and support me, nieces and nephews and the start of another generation on the way.
At Zimpeto, I get to give to children the love that’s been given to me. I was raised in a family and now I have the opportunity to give from the fullness of this blessing to children who have no family of their own.
To be here today, missing such an important family event, is a small price to pay for the blessing of being able to pour out what has been poured so abundantly into my life. I know my family understands this and blesses my choice to be here today. The children of Zimpeto are the family I share my heart with during this season of my life.
What better way to spend a family day.
February 8, 2008
8 Things I Learned This Week…
1/ Where I live, in the city of
2/ When the city shuts down due to rioting, the electricity shuts down too.
3/ When there’s no electricity, our big back-up generator kicks in.
4/ When there’s rioting in the city, there is no diesel to run the big generator.
5/ When the big generator runs out of diesel, the little generator kicks in.
6/ The little generator runs on diesel too.
7/ At least there’s plenty of hot water because it’s heated by gas.
8/ The hot water, although heated by gas, runs on electricity and, when there’s a riot in the city…
What else did I learn yesterday?
* That the average income of a Mozambican is less than $1 a day.
* That many Mozambicans cannot afford to catch a chapa (minibus) but must walk everywhere they go.
* That many of those who can afford to take a chapa, spend much of their meagre income on this, the only form of transport available to them.
* That chapa drivers are finding it difficult to make a living by driving their chapas due to rising gas prices.
* That poverty is a complicated issue about which we cannot make sweeping generalisations.
How to meet the needs of the chapa drivers and the people who use them? I don’t know but God has a plan.
* Let's pray for change that is long-term and brings health to the economy and, thus, better quality of life for the people.
* Let's pray for wisdom, courage and integrity for the Government of Mozambique and for President Guebuza.
* Let's pray for God to make the way ahead for this nation as it struggles to overcome years of devastating poverty.
* Let's pray for change that will return dignity to the lives of the 21 million people who live here.
February 5, 2008
Here at Zimpeto, we watched throughout the morning as rioters taunted police along the roadway at the front of the property. Our gates were locked, our guards vigilant, school cancelled for the day and all our children out of sight in the hall. They seem used to such upheaval and were excited at the chance to watch a DVD rather than sit in a hot school room all morning.
Zimpeto is on the outskirts of the city, located on the main road north from Maputo. Out on the road, tyres have been set on fire and cars overturned. Police and soldiers have been using tear gas and rubber bullets to quell the dissent. We have heard that the situation in the city is even worse. A pall of thick, black smoke hangs in the sky to the south.
The people are demonstrating against the doubling of chapa fares. Chapas, or minibuses, are the only form of transport for most people here in Maputo but the fare rise will make chapas unaffordable for many.
It is difficult to comprehend how a bus fare doubling to 70 cents could bring such a strong reaction. Imagine, if you possibly can, carrying a heavy sack of dull, dry corn through the dust and heat of Maputo to sell at the markets. You wrestle the sack onto the already-overloaded roof of a chapa and and then you squeeze in, bending low for the hour-long trip. If you can make some money on the corn, you will be able to buy bread and rice to feed your family this week. If the bus fare costs more than you can make on your produce, you will not be able to buy food.
I had hoped that living here for a year would bring perspective to my sheltered world view. I don’t know, though, how to process all that I see. Two weeks here and I am reeling from the stretching my soul feels as I try to make sense of the lives most Mozambicans live. Perhaps “making sense” is not possible. How does one rationalise such poverty and suffering?
I feel my heart’s not big enough to deal with all I see around me. And so, some days I switch off and refuse to notice. Other days, I fall into the refuge of the Father’s Heart and pour my confusion and frustration onto Him in prayer. And then there are days when the pure, guileless love to be found in the Baby House is my refuge. By pouring out affection on these precious babes, I am filled and refreshed over and over, and this is the economy of God.
As I watch from my door, the streets seem calmer now. We hear no more yelling or guns or army vehicles rumbling down the road. The children have been released from their confine, too late for any lessons today. Staff make their way to offices and classrooms at Zimpeto. Nobody will be driving anywhere until tomorrow. And I am sure that I can hear the Baby House calling…
February 1, 2008
I've arrived in Mozambique and have had two weeks to settle in. Como esta? Nao comprehende? I've dived straight in and started Portuguese lessons in town each day.
I'm living in a two bedroom flat in a building just off the main play area (see photo on right). It's noisy much of the time and in amidst all the action. My Brazilian flatmate threw a barbeque on Saturday night and I was able to make some new friends.
On the same day that I arrived, the Centre took in a 2 week old baby, deserted at the hospital after birth. She's been named Eliana and is doing well. She's my new "special friend" in the Baby House and always in need of some extra attention.
We have regular blackouts here - about 5 in the past week - and a generator that usually kicks in after a few minutes. Last night we were sitting around the kitchen table when the lights went out and the conversation didn't miss a beat. We just kept talking until the lights came on again.
As I sit here in my room, I hear the noise of this busy place all around me and know there's nowhere else I'd rather be. God has made the way ahead of me and I'm so excited to be here. Settling in and adjusting to the huge changes will take some time and that's OK. This is a year of transition for so many of us - transition isn't easy but life on the other side is beyond your wildest dreams. Imagine how big God is - and dream accordingly. Then see what He does!
Oh... and to the Aussies - Happy Australia Day for the 26th. I had vegemite toast in honour of the day. Monday is "Heroes Day" in Mozambique so a public holiday. The Centre of course keeps functioning as normal. When I find out who the heroes are, I'll let you know.