April 10, 2013



It is the first Sunday of the month and several Iris Ministries churches have gathered together here at ZimpeWomen capulanasto. It is also Women’s Day and the church is noisy and full to overflowing, bustling with movement, music, dancing – and joy, oh the African move-your-feet, clap-your-hands, sing-out-loud joy! Le le le le le le le!

The first Sunday of each month always reminds me of the bigger picture of life here in Mozambique. You see, I live at a children’s centre behind guarded gates and high walls. Zimpeto’s 260 kids get three square meals and two showers a day and new clothes when their old ones rip; they receive an education; they grow up amidst the love and support of a community of believers. I live in a comparably well-off bubble slap-bang in the midst of a community so poor that many people right outside our well-guarded gates eat onlladies church weddingy one meal a day.

On the first Sunday of each month, the “real” Mozambique visits for the morning. I sit near the old vovos – the grandmothers - in their traditional, vibrantly-coloured capulanas and head scarves, looking so much older than their years.

I cuddle a little girl on my lap whose skirt is held up with a safety pin and whose knees are scabby and weeping. Her big brother, perhaps nine or ten, stands next to us, his smile bright and his eyes sparkling with good humour even as his light hair and dull skin wordlessly reveal his malnutrition. While the music plays, his ripped, buttonless shirt flaps open and faGuitar and dancinglls off one shoulder each time he copies the vigorous slide-stamp-clap movement of the older boys near him. As the dust clouds rise from their feet and beads of sweat are flicked away, he pulls his shirt back on, determined to keep up with his heroes, the big boys in their big boy shirts with their big boy haircuts. Everyone needs a hero.

The longer I live here, the more desensitised I become and the less I notice the poverty and its attendant suffering right on my doorstep. I no longer rage loudly at the injustices surrounding me but simmer quietly instead. Perhaps I have run out of words. Perhaps my heart grew weary from feeling too deeply, too often. Or perhaps, somewhere along the line, I decided to stopsick woman 2 feeling because it was too hard.

A year ago I used to pray each Sunday with a young woman who was too sick to sit up in church. She would drag her emaciated body onto the back of our flat-bed truck, ride to church with others from the community, make it in the door then lie down, having expended all her strength to get there. Each week I would sit on the floor or on a bench and pray with her, flicking the flies away and desperately pleading for healing and life to flow back into her wasted frame. It has been a year now and, somewhere along the way, she stopped coming. I didn’t notice until today. How could I not notice?

Indifference is grey. It is dull and tasteless and it is deceptively powerful. I need the sharp stab of conscience to move me once more, to guide me, to have its painful way in the apathetic corners of my heart. If not, what am I doing here?

I want to carry with me always the jagged painWomens Day 1 I feel as I look around me now. This is my church. This is where I come to worship. It is a gift I cannot fully fathom. This is a world so different from the one from which I came. God, keep my heart soft to the needs around me, to the suffering of my brothers and sisters as I serve You here.

The music ends and we all sit, my young friend with the buttonless shirt fingering my shiny new silver watch, entranced by its glossy exterior and by the hands moving within. To me it is a cheap watch, to him it’s worth a fortune. He glances at me with a huge smile, expecting me to pull my hand away. I don’t, and he is thrilled to be able to run his finger gently around the smooth glass. We both laugh and my heart begins to feel once more.

Suddenly there is a crash from the rightBoys will be boys as a bench collapses under the weight of too much wriggling. A bunch of children roll harmlessly onto the floor and onto each other, arms and legs flailing. Each looks around for someone to blame and, finding no one, they all laugh and shove until they’re told to settle down and find new seats. I laugh with them.

Two teenage girls from the community are called forward to sing. The African harmonies in their song make my heart sing with them. The beads in their hair click rhythmically as they sway, singing unaccompanied and with perfect pitch, the rhythm starting at their toes and working its way up until, towards the end, their whole bodies are moving, their eyes closed and their arms DSCN4147raised in worship. It is a loud, exuberant peak, a holy celebration shared even with those of us who do not understand Shangaan. When the Spirit moves, language is no barrier.

And then it begins... Pastor Nico calls all the women and girls forward: it is Women’s Day, after all. The littlest girls rush to the front, vovos help each other off the floor, missionaries line up, the teenagers shuffle, embarrassed, and the visitors glance around, wondering if they’re included. I feel drab and dull in my black blouse and dark denim skirt as I kiss on both cheeks one of the vovos dressed in diverse patterns of greens, blues and reds. I wish her a “feliz Dia das Mulheres” – happy Women’s Day! I’m proud of myself for saying it so fluently in Portuguese then remember that she only speaks Shangaan. We smile and hug, sharing the language of celebration instead, our womanhood bonding us despite differences in age, cultuWomens Day 6re and language. Oh, and the colour of our clothes.

All the men and boys form two lines facing each other along the front of the church, then out the front door, up the long footpath and in the back door. They raise their arms and hold hands to form a tunnel, the littlest boys reaching to raise their arms as high as they can.

The music plays, the drums beating out a rhythm as my vovo friend sways in time, elbows bent, her arms swinging steadily as if to propel her forward. She bends low to walk into the tunnel and I follow.

Hands touch our heads as the men pray for us, hands on our backs and shoulders, hands pulling us forward, hands pressing us through. This is no time to be sensitive about one’s personal space. I feel my hair clip fall and don’t care: there are some moments in life when messy is good and this is one of them. My back aches from bending low as we pass the small boys, laughing as they mess up my hair on purpose. I laugh with them.MOZ Dec 06.1 362

It is hot, sweaty work, making our way through that long, long tunnel. It is loud and joyous as we stop and start, shuffling slowly and getting completely mussed up. As we exit, everyone is laughing, hugging, kissing cheeks and high-fiving (yes, even here).

I sit down, still chuckling at the chaos and the noise and the bodies bumping up against each other and at how untidy I now am, and I’m thankful. Perhaps this morning is a gift to remind me that, while sharing in the suffering of others, one must remember to also share their joys.

We celebrate together and perhaps the bright, colourful, patterned clothing of the Mozambican vovos can teach me a thing or two about the colours of life here.

Perhaps the joy of dancing through a tunnel of hands fills them with the strength they need to get tTwo handshem through another week and, as I dance with them, my heart feels strengthened once more.

Perhaps they need my laughter more than they need my tears and this is a gift I can give while, together, we sway to the heartbeat of the African rhythms of life.

April 4, 2013


When Binario asked me to photograph his wedding to Valine, my first reaction was one of excitement. I had been wondering how I could bless these two young people and I now had the opportunity to give to them in a way I’d not expected. These “kids” who grew up here at Zimpeto own very little and, of course, we want to bless them however we can. The week before, we’d invited them to Home Group to surprise them with wedding gifts: the most practical, useful gifts we could think of. Tupperware, glasses, pans, mugs, P1350769 2and cash – metacais – stuffed into the pots and plasticware.

To photograph their wedding was another opportunity to bless them. I could give them a gift that will last a lifetime. So I said yes, enthusiastically and with great assurance. Then I thought about it and the anxiety began, the “what am I doing” moment (a whole day, really) of thinking, “This is the most important day of their lives. There can be no do-over. What if something goes wrong? What if...? What if...? What am I doing?” The excuses flowed and I was ready to pull out.

I have photographed a lot of kids and animals and weather; flowers that will grow again next season; suns that will set again tomorrow; views from a flight that I’ll be taking again soon. I have never photographed a wedding, not officially. So, to be the one person, with the one dodgy camera, documenting the one special day, with no chance of a repeat performance, felt like too much of a stretch for me.

I’ve photographed lions from four feet away through a window unwisely cracked open. I’ve snapped birds in trees while I lie flat on my back in the grass, whales from a shifting boat deck, dolphins from the slippery rocks as the waves crash around me. I’m the one climbing up onto the table at the school reunion to get the shot with the light just so. When I want a good photo, I commit. And I’ve ended up with some great snaps over the years.

I’ve also gone to Niagara Falls without a memory carP1350518d in my camera. I’ve toppled face-first into the sand while trying to get just the right angle of a toddler playing. I’ve almost fallen off a bench in the middle of church, a couple of times now, as I photograph over the heads of the tall people in front of me. The last sunrise at which I aimed my lens, I ended up backing into a four feet deep ditch, having to claw my way out by digging my fingernails into the dirt and crawling on my stomach. Maybe that’s when the sand got into my zoom lens.

I photograph instinctively then edit, edit, edit. I am no technical expert. What if the conditions are too difficult for my limited knowledge? What if it’s too sunny, or too cloudy, or too wet or too dry? Again I thought of cancelling. Did I mention that my Portuguese does not yet include terms such as “bouquet”, “registry” and “can you all do the hokey pokey now”?

My camera is eight years old and the flash doesn’t work properly. I have three batteries, none of which last long and sometimes die completely in the African heat. Occasionally the zoom lens doesn’t zoom – a minute or two of gentle manipulation helps. I’ll be saying to the groom as he holds his bride aloft in his arms on the beach as the tide turns and the sun disappears quickly below the horizon, “Hold that pose... just another minute... hold it...”

I was now on an excuses bender. I thought about my feet. Mozambican Church can be too long for me, let alone a Mozambican wedding. It would begin with the civil ceremony at the registry office in town, move to the park for photos, then to the beach, out to Zimpeto for the public church ceremony, and back to town for the evening reception. My feet ached and the rest of me panicked just thinking about it.

I looked at my calendar and saw the busy month I was heading into. The wedding day came sandwiched right in the middle of three weekends out of five that I was working. Now that right there is a good excuse. All my reasoning was fair and understandable. Then I began to think of the joy of the day and of this young couple’s trust in me, my abilities and my camera that, to them, was really fancy. And I thought, “If I don’t do it, who will?” I knew, aside from technical disasters, I could do a reasoP1350469nable job. I’m no pro photographer but I could turn out some sound, if not dazzlingly amazing, shots. The bride and groom would like the results. It was, after all, all about them.

When did taking photos at a wedding become a huge faith step, akin to quitting a job or moving to another country, or actually getting married? I realised I was - to use a well-worn psychological term – totally freaking out. I would do this, I would do it as best I could, and I would trust God with the results. God cares about such things! Now... just breathe. And go clean the sand out of your camera.

So, it would be me and my faithful, battered old five megapixel, 12x zoom Panasonic (yes, I hear you photographers chuckling). I cleaned and wiped, flicked and fiddled. I massaged the stiff lens mechanism, I laid hands and prayed. I truly did. I packed, repacked, unpacked and packed again. And the more I prepared, the more excited I became at the possibility of giving a gift to this young couple that would make them smile for years to come.

By playing photographer, I was able to document the wedding of two of Zimpeto’s own. They both grew up here. They’re theP1350810 first two to marry “within the family” and they are both very special, gifted young people who love God and each other.

To think, I nearly missed it. I had the honour of witnessing each step of this long, wonderful and very Mozambican day. My camera worked (mostly), the photos turned out (generally), the bride and groom were blessed (totally) and I had the time of my life.