Sunday, October 28, 2007

It's the Small Things...

...that dictate the success (or lack thereof) of larger things. For example, this past week a rather small ball bearing in our (Lister) generator-that-we-depend-on-for-everything apparently was having ‘trouble’. It was a new bearing, so it shouldn't have. It should have been fine. It was making a new noise when it ran so we did the routine checks plus a few extras. We couldn’t see where the problem was so we were faced with having to find a mechanic, somewhere, somehow, who could give us some kind of advice. That’s not so easy way out here. The closest Lister agent is a 2 day drive away.

While we were contemplating what to do, and in very short order, the troubled bearing bade a final and destructive farewell . We knew there was trouble when the lights went off at 7 pm instead of 9 pm. We grabbed our flashlights and headed up the path toward the generator shed. We met the guard half way there. “There’s a big problem! The generator started squealing loudly, then shut itself off...I wasn’t even there...I didn’t even shut it off...It just made a loud noise and...”he managed between breaths. He’s rather excitable and when he has adrenaline surges he talks very fast. He was talking very fast then! We arrived at the shed to find columns of smoke rising from the machine and the ‘excessive speed’ warning light lit. Hmmm. This can’t be good!
(see the metal pieces at the bottom of the ring? Yeah, that's NOT good.)

The following day we spent half the day pulling the alternator off of the diesel engine. This is no small task. The thing likely weighs a couple hundred pounds since it essentially consists of a thick metal casing and bundles upon bundles of tightly wound wire inside. Think: lead. With the help of a block and tackle, 2 tire irons, assorted tools, some serious pushing, pulling and grunting AND, let me not forget, my handy 'this-is-serious-business-leather gloves, we got it apart! One small bearing having ‘trouble’ led to many small copper wires being torched, which brought a large powerful unit to a screeching halt. Now that it’s apart, we’re faced with the same old challenge as always...getting it somewhere to someone who can do something with it! And our trusty old back-up generator isn’t performing at the moment either. *sigh* For now, our nights are just a little darker.

On a more positive note, this week a tetanus vaccination campaign was held at both the mission-run health posts. Ernesto is given the duty of administering the shots as well as the campaign staff from Chimoio. One lady who was a little aprehensive about the whole affair asked, “Is it going to hurt?” One of the campaign staff replied with, “Not’s just a small needle.” In this case, small may hurt but it helps too. For me, the event was rather exciting to witness. This is what makes the bumps in life worthwhile. Helping people.

Several days ago, I decided it was high time I go check on the progress of a widow/orphan’s house whose hut burned to the ground a few months back. I was impressed with what I saw. A job that somehow I figured would take months took a mere week. Her family will help her put a roof on it now and voila! She and her family are very happy with the new house.

We popped in on the school one day last week to take pictures for a thank-you to the care-a-thon (Heimdal) that takes place each June. This event helps to keep feeding these children a great lunch each day! School visits are always a rewarding event because the kids willingly share their beautiful smiles and love hamming it up for pictures. We’ve known most of these kids and their families for about 10 years now, so we feel very much a part of their lives. And they are a special part of our lives as well. And last but not least, there has been some progress on our house. Believe it or not, these are just the foundation walls. We’re building on quite a slope. This front corner still needs a few more layers of bricks, and that’s just for the FLOOR of the veranda. Wow. You could practically sky-dive off of there! We’ve decided that rather than try to fill the huge cavity inside with dirt, we’ll do the Canadian thing and build a basement! It’ll be more of a crawl space, but boy will it ever come in handy. We can store all kinds of stuff in there: garden tools, bikes, broken generators...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Still Standing

This is a recent picture of a big old fig tree that I originally photographed (below) about 2 months ago after a fire swept through the mission farm. I had been out the previous night trying to put out grass fires along a path I had been instructed to follow. Dwight had headed in a different direction. It was new territory to me and the path was not a well used one. All I had for light was a dim LED Dot-IT. As I stumbled along the winding path putting out little fires here and there, I came upon a strange sight. There stood a massive tree with sparks and fire shooting out of the long vertical cavity in its trunk. It was quite ominous. Downright threatening in the dark that night since I was alone in new territory--close to the revered ancestral graveyard I might add-- armed with only a dim little Dot-IT for light and a scrubby branch for self-protection. Neither of those would have been much help if I had come across something truly sinister! Nor were they of much comfort as I stood looking at the big tree, ablaze, and possibly about to crash to the ground! A pit formed in my stomach when I realized that the foot path I was following led straight UNDER the tree. I contemplated veering off the path, but knowing there are numerous poisonous snakes lurking about in the bush, and not wanting to get lost (remember Hansel and Gretel?), I decided the ‘under the tree’ option was my best bet. I studied the flaming scene for awhile. If I did it quickly, and with a prayer, I’d likely be fine. Not necessarily in that order though!

Since I’m now writing about this event, it’s obvious I survived it! Things are scarier in the dark, you know. I was determined the next day to retrace my steps to find that tree. I was sure it would be lying on the ground somewhere, a massive heap of charred wood and ashes. But when I got to the spot, there it was still standing, stark and bare against the late afternoon sky. I took a picture of it.
That tree had survived many fires in its lifetime, but I was pretty sure it would not remain standing much longer now. So I’ve kept my eye on it over the weeks.

Spring-time is now upon us and trees are busy putting their new green leaves proudly on display. The old fig tree, believe it or not, is still standing. Not only that, but it has put on a leafy display as well! Many of its branches are still bare, but I was amazed to see any sign of life at all! It’s sort of a miracle of nature. Although this tree faced the fierce trial of that in fact gutted it and left a gaping hollow in its still stands.
AND it appears to still be fruitful. There’s a lesson here, but I won’t state the obvious.
We witnessed another miracle recently too. A few posts back I mentioned about our residence permits and how we had missed the national ‘foreigner’s census’. Usually such things carry hefty fines and much legal red tape. We (and others) prayed, then we braced ourselves for the inevitable last week as we went in to the immigration department in Chimoio. Dwight has built relationships with the staff and directors of just about every government office in town since mission work requires extensive legal paperwork. When we walked in to the Immigration Dept. Director’s office, we were greeted with a warm smile, a hand shake and “Hey, how are things?” After some small talk, we explained that our annual permit renewal time was up, but that somehow we had missed the census. The director flipped through our permits then said, “It’s simple. We’ll just do the census at the same time as the renewal. No problem.” Our relief was guarded though, since the process still lay before us. But we thanked the Lord just the same.
To cut a lengthy story short, after filling out a variety of forms, photocopying passports, etc. in triplicate, meeting with the Director of Religious Affairs and making repeated trips to town to first see this official, then that one, we finally got our permits renewed AND we got the shiny little sticker that proves we’ve completed the census. That tiny sticker that we didn’t have a few weeks ago and that brought our long trip to South Africa to a premature and grinding hault. Yes, THAT sticker. That sticker tells the story not only of our most recent trial, but of older, bigger trials we’ve come through as well! It tells of stories with a common happy ending...we’re still standing!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

October Heat

This is spring time in Mozambique, and it’s our hottest season. Thankfully the heat is drier right now until the rains come, so that makes it just a bit more tolerable. But just a bit. I took a few pictures of our outdoor thermometer. The shot below was taken on the most pleasant (cool) day last week. That was the day we had a break from the heat! But before that pleasant day, it had been hot as an oven. Well, not quite. But 40 and above for several days in a row. It felt like an oven. When it gets that hot, the local people say, “It’s cooking rain”. That’s the intense heat that comes before rain. We did in fact get a small spatter of rain one night which is why it then cooled down into the mere 30’s. In the next month or so, we should get more and more rain, as long as this isn’t a drought year. The thing about this season that ceases to amaze me is that at the hottest, driest time of the year, the brown leafless trees somehow manage to find enough water deep in the ground that they become flush with bright green leaves. We revel in their shade as you can well imagine!
This is also the beginning of ‘creature season’. This is a Cicada and the is their time to wake from dormancy and sing, “Zzzweeeeeeeeeeee” to their heart’s content. Generally speaking they only do this during the daytime, but sometimes they seem to get disoriented and ‘zweee’ at night too. There are thousands of them and they’re in every tree, so the sound can seem nearly deafening. They have an interesting life cycle. It’s a great topic for homeschooled kids to research (read: google)! It stands to reason that with the advent of bug season, the frogs come out to play. Here is a little guy who seems to like our front door step (pictured here beside the broom handle). When I come back home from hooking up to email at the office in the evenings, he’s often sitting there to greet me. We seem to have had a spate of fairly sick people and emergencies this past week or so...bicycle accidents (common here), snake bites (sorry for mentioning it again, Heather), an asthma attack, and so on. This 10 year old boy’s mom (see previous posts) is a widow who does odd jobs to help feed her 2 kids. A few weeks ago she got very sick with pneumonia which I treated her for. She improved but her recovery has been slow and the food supply at home is dwindling. This little guy walked for hours in the heat to bring the message that they need help at home. Here he is with a bag in hand with medicine for mommy, infant formula for baby brother and cookies for himself. We sent further food supplies to help them over this hump. Children learn responsibility and face life’s hardships at a much younger age out here! Thanksgiving. Yes, apparently it came and went recently. Thanksgiving is not celebrated out here so we usually forget it exists until family from home ask us, “So what are you doing for thanksgiving?” Oh...hmm. As it turned out, this year we were able to attend an English church service nearby then had potluck afterwards of cold cuts and salads. The heat that day was brutal. So instead of hot turkey on a cold day, we had cold chicken on a hot day. Maybe the only true similarity was the reminder to be thankful for our blessings, and to share with those around us. I guess that’s really the most important part!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

It's good to be home

We weren’t sorry to leave Whiteriver last week simply because it was wet, cold and rainy the whole time we were there! Coming back home is always nice either way. Every time we make this trip by road, we wonder why we do it. It’s a 4 day round-trip, and the road is not ‘user-friendly’! But things have improved dramatically since the first time we drove this highway, the EN 1, in 1994. At that time, it still bore the wounds inflicted by the years civil war and neglect. It was nearly impassable then as trenches had been dug across it so that it would be, well, impassable! Over the last 13 years, the highway has been built, rebuilt, flooded (in the floods of 2000) then rebuilt again. For the most part it’s much better, but some parts still send you swerving back and forth through the maze of potholes.

As you can see, in Africa we really like Coca Cola, Colgate toothpaste, Lux bath soap and Surf laundry detergent! Many little stores will give companies the ‘ok’ to paint their ads on their store fronts. You have to admit, it IS eye-catching. Even I’m tempted to stop and pick up some of the advertised goods! Other stores are left to display their real character.
On the 2nd day of our journey we make a pit stop at one of the few fuel stations along this stretch. Caltex must have foreseen big returns here since they built on both sides of the 2-lane-no-shoulders EN 1! The station on the other side is more impressive in that it sports what was to be a convenience store & restaurant. It was built in 2000 but has never been open for business. Only this side has ever had fuel. And every time we stop here to fuel up, we’re always the only ones. I’ve never seen another vehicle here...ever. We usually have to wait several minutes until the attendant realises someone is really there. And when we’re done, he settles back into his chair, cell phone in hand.

This is the Save River and to us it marks the beginning of our ‘home stretch’...just 5 hours from here to home! There is a boom across the one end which is manned by police. Sometimes we have to pay to cross. Other times we don’t. We’re not sure why, but some questions are better left unasked.

There are really no places to stop at on the 2nd day of this journey, so the best we can do is stop along the road, get out and stretch, grab a coke from the cooler (see how effective the ads are?), and by the time we’re done all that, the intense heat is chasing us back inside the airconditioned car! Once we get home, it’s time to unpack and get geared for work and whatever current crises may exist. But still, it’s awfully good to be home again!