November 29, 2012


There are days when it’s hard to be here, when life is Just Plain Tough; when the noise of 300 kids feels too much to bear, when another worship band practice strikes up in the church at full ear-splitting volume, when someone in a house nearby starts drumming and goes on for hours, when the visitors are playing “Soccer fieldSpoons” at midnight. Again.

There are days when the heat saps my strength and my head spins from dehydration because, once more, I forgot to drink water. On a hot day, drinking is a full-time occupation.

There are days when the sand thrashes my face like hot pins in the wind and all I want to do is go into lockdown behind closed doors. Even then, somehow, the sand finds me, covering everything indoors with a layer of dirt: plates, pillows, books, the lot. At the end of a windy day, even my bed needs to be brushed down before I climb in.

There are days when there is no running water because the bore has run dry and, once more, I’ve forgotten to refill the five litre spare bottle I keep stashed away. There are days when the electricity goes on and off again and again, which means the fan goes on and off. I’m happy to live without electricity except when my fan is plugged in.

Last week I had one of those days. I felt sorry for myself and did not want to be here. I cried. I hid myself away. I threw myself a massive pity party and I whinged and whined to God. He didn’t correct me, or discipline me, or tell me to just get over it. Neither did He pander. He heard and He answered, by gBoys playgroundiving me just what I needed: perspective, revealed in the form of two tiny lives.

Late in the week we heard of a baby out in the community who was desperately ill, whose family could not care for her. They had reached the end of their ability to cope and had nowhere else to turn. The team that investigates potential new admissions visited the home, met the family, saw the baby, and knew she needed to be here.

Then, somehow, red tape wrapped itself around the process and her arrival was delayed.

She died over the weekend.

I was angry. I was devastated. I sobbed out the sorrow and the fury at such injustice. I raged at Heaven and at the God who let this happen. Just a few more days; she needed just a few more days...

I really can’t say if she would have lived, had she come to us sooner. I didn’t meet her; I don’t know her name, her age, the colour of her eyes. All I know is that, for one brief moment, we were receiving a new baby into our care and she had hope. Then she died.

I found no peace, heard no gentle words of comfort. My heart was shattered and I felt more helpless than I have in a very long time.

Then we heard of another baby needing help. All wenNercia Day 1t smoothly, no red tape tangle this time and she arrived yesterday, four months old and 4.6kg. She is small and malnourished but otherwise healthy. Her name is Nercia. She is here and she is beautiful. She is alive. And her eyes are bright, sparkling, deep dark brown.

God heard my cry – my whining about the discomforts and the inconveniences of life here – and He answered by bringing perspective to my week. We fight many battles and some we lose. The only way to keep going is to keep perspective, rejoicing in the battles we win and quickly releasing the ones that defeat us.

So, now, when I am tempted to throw myself a pity party, I think of Nercia and of other battles won for the lives of Zimpeto’s children. I think of Sina who was close to death as a newborn and is now a healthy, confident, opinionated seven-year-old ready to lead the world. Yuran, labelled a hopeless case by another children’s centre in Maputo, now chatting to anyone who’ll listen and walking with only a slight limp after five years of therapy.Wendy Yuran cropped

There are also many success stories among the young adults who spent their growing-up years here. I think of beautiful Valene and her fiancĂ©, Binario, who both grew up at Zimpeto and are now planning their wedding. Ramito, humorous and intelligent, now studying in the US. Mpedge who saved up through many years of working for pocket money in the Centre’s gardens: he paid his own way through driving school and has just received his licence, his doorway to potential employment.

And, every day, I think of Milagrosa: her name means “Great Miracle”. She was found a year ago in a rubbish skip in the city. Yes, she was thrown away with the garbage. God saw her and He saved her. She was found by a passer-by who heard her crying and brought her to Zimpeto where she thrived in the nursery. She grew strong, ate fussily, giggled often and began to walk. Just a month ago, a visiting family fell in love with her at first sight and adopted her. Now that’s what I call a great miracle!

Every one of Zimpeto’s kids, whether babies or all grown up, is a miracle, a success story beyond our understanding. God is raising the poor of this nation from the dust and is giving them, one life at a time, a future and a hope.

So, on days like this when the wind whips the saAll children 3nd into a blinding cloud and the water stops flowing through the taps, when the fan goes off and I feel like one more drum beat will rob me of my sanity, I think of Milagrosa and Nercia and of all the lives we have been privileged to love.

We don’t win every battle but we’re winning more with each year that passes. I am so thankful that I get to be a part of this extraordinary adventure in a place where miracles happen and dreams, so very often, really do come true.

November 8, 2012


A shapa stop from the air
Last week I drove around the city trying to get some keys cut. I was unsuccessful - three times - but that is a story for another day. As I drove, I thought: “When I’m back in Sydney, I’ll have to remember to stay in my own lane when I’m driving.” Yes, I did actually think this, word for word.

Then I thought, “How is it that I am able, when in Australia, to trust other drivers to obey the road rules and, in Maputo, equally at peace assuming no one will obey the road rules? Are there road rules in Mozambique?”

In Sydney, when I am driving on a four-lane road I know that, aside from a blown tyre, earthquake or heart attack, the cars flowing predictably in the same direction as me will continue to do so unless they tell me otherwise with plenty of warning. It is peaceful and unsurprising. Last time I was there, I found it just a little humdrum.

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Shapas waiting for passengers
In Sydney, it does not occur to me that the car in the right lane will suddenly cut across in front of me to pull in on the left to pick up a passenger. No indicator, no warning, missed my vehicle by inches and only because I slammed my foot on the brakes. In Maputo when this happens, I hardly blink. In fact, it has made me laugh often.

Welcome to traffic school, Mozambique-style.

Once, I nearly lost a side mirror when I was stuck in a two-lane traffic jam. All was well until a shapa (a public minibus) swept between the two official lanes, creating a new lane all for himself and missing my mirror by millimetres. I watched while, as if in slow motion, his side mirror came within a whisker of mine. He did not slow down and I didn’t gasp. I didn’t honk the horn, I didn’t panic. I just watched, more interested than concerned, as his mirror whispered past mine, close enough for me to give it a bit of a spit and polish.

Repairing my side mirror during a border run

Now the floodgate had opened and more shapas used this newly-created lane: more vehicles squeezed through a gap I could not see until a family sedan got half-way, became alarmed and stopped, the passenger’s big brown eyes just inches from mine.

Shapa drivers are renowned in Mozambique as the revheads1 of the road. Their vehicles often lean precariously to one side, are rusting away, thumping out loud music, and regularly displaying silhouette-stickers of semi-clad women on the back. Shapas often have no window-glass, handy when someone needs to stick their bottom out the window to make room for one more person on the bus.

Personal space is an oxymoron when it comes to shapa travel. Be prepared to get close, then closer, then closer still. Plan ahead so you will not need to scratch your nose or look at your watch. In fact, don’t wear a watch – it may not be there when you disembark.

At shapa stops, groups of hawkers run wildly alongside moving vehicles, selling water, peanuts and bread sticks to the passengers within. They hand an item through the window then run, run, run to keep up as the buyer within tries to wrestle change from his pocket, hand it over three rows of heads and out the window. There must be unwritten shapa etiquette that allows for theSolemn Assembly 003 honest exchange of money on the move. There must also be protocols for who gets on first and last, who sits on whose lap (seriously) and how many people is just enough.

The city of Maputo owns about a hundred full-size buses that run mostly in town. For everybody else, shapas and utes (small, flat-bed trucks) are it. For me in a squeeze (pun intended) I’d choose standing with thirty other people on the back of a truck over a shapa ride any day. At least I can see the sky and know that, if worst comes to worst, I can do the sheep-in-a-pen thing and go up and over the heads of other people to get off. The unwritten rule is that everybody on the outside links arms and holds on to each other, forming one big, secure square, so nobody falls off. Ingenious, really. Until you’re standing in the glaring sun hugging someone you’ve never met before, it’s 45 degrees celcius, there’s metal under your feet and the traffic is at a standstill.

Taking a shapa is neither easy nor quick. Yes, shapas could be safer, more roadworthy, and a whole lot bMen on uteetter organised. For now, though, shapas and trucks are all that the people of this developing nation have to get to and from work each day: there is no other option.

I have never been the hard-core missionary-type and shapas are just a little beyond the capacity of this mildly adventurous spirit to conquer. Being the wuss3 that I am when it comes to enclosed spaces, I’m grateful that where I work is where I live, so my daily commute is just a short, pleasant walk through the sand.

1Revhead: Australian colloquialism for a hoon2.
2 Hoon: Australian colloquialism for someone, generally young and male, who drives recklessly, dangerously. Not a wuss3.
3 Wuss: Australian colloquialism for a person who is overly careful and unadventurous.