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.