Saturday, June 28, 2008

An eventful trip and some sage advice

I took a few quick shots of our trip on the EN1 through Mozambique on our way to South Africa just a few days ago. In case the photo is not descriptive enough, note that besides the humungous truck bearing down on us, there are no shoulders on the road and there are pedestrians walking and vehicles stopping on the sides as well.

Add to that, the bad patches with nasty potholes, overloaded vehicles (often with no working head/tail lights) and it can be a treacherous highway indeed!

We’ve made this trip many times along this particular route (the only alternative is going through Zimbabwe, which isn’t such a great idea right now), and every trip seems to set itself apart from previous ones through some or other unusual incident. Oddly enough, this time the highway, traffic and pedestrians weren’t the problem. The problem was a case of road rage in Maputo.

I’ve witnessed my fair share of frustrated drivers over the years, either shaking their fists or making expressive hand motions at other drivers (yes, at times, even at me). But what I witnessed the other day in Maputo was the sort of thing I’d only read or heard about before.
A play by play account of the incident is tempting, but I won’t put you through that. In a nut shell envision this: we going the speed limit and a VERY ANGRY "Mr. T" shaped guy behind us who wanted to go much faster (and ? had been drinking?). He did his best to ram us off the road and at one point came to a dead stop in the road ahead of us and came out of his car, enraged, with explosive words coming from of his scrunched up face and arms swinging wildly in agreement. I’m not sure we interpreted ALL the messages accurately, but we got the main message: he was extremely ticked off at us for not getting out of his way. He didn’t look sick, had no labouring woman with him, and he obviously wasn’t a cop, so...personally, I think he’d had a bit too much “happy hour” and wanted the thrill of speed to boot. It took a few tricky manoeuvres to avoid and get around him, but Dwight did an impressive job of that. We only finally lost him when we approached a police check-point. Suddenly he needed to make an exit!

Our 27th wedding anniversary almost slipped by yesterday unnoticed—that’s when you know there’s too much on your mind. Dad took us out for a nice supper which turned out to be a rather humorous event. We’d been to the place once before, so I was coaching dad regarding some of the menu items. “The pumpkin soup, with its cream and spices, is wonderful. Oh, and under main dishes, the “potjie” would be very good too, dad. It’s a unique type of stew with vegetables. VERY good.” When our host came to tell us the evening specials he listed the potjie as made from venison (Kudu) along with other delectable ingredients. My dad’s smile caught mine across the table...that was exactly what we were going to have! Well, the pumpkin soup was stupendous and filling, but the much-anticipated potjie, sad to say, rather resembled mud. The lumps of meat that clung to large bones were layered with fat, and when we finally did manage to detach a piece to chew, it certainly fought back! (Sudden flash-back of the road rage gentleman.) As for flavour, the little there was left much to be desired. After about 6-10 very brave mouthfuls of the stuff, both dad and I had had enough. Thankfully the soup had been good and quite filling, but now, it was time to go home. The waitress brought my leftovers in a take-away container, which I decided to leave right where she put it. I have no dog or anyone else here to feed, and I sure didn’t want any more! This anniversary would be memorable for, if nothing else, that meal alone. As we left, I wondered if dad, walking behind me, would pick up my “left-behinds” and present them to me just outside the restaurant with a knowing grin and a witty comment. Thankfully he didn’t, but we had a great laugh at the thought anyway.

Today we head to Johannesburg since Dad’s flight leaves tomorrow morning. We’re sad to see him go, but happy that he can be back home again after so long away.

I’ll sign off this time with some advice from recent experience:
1. Stay out of the fast guy’s way
2. If you can’t avoid the fast guy with the volatile temper, be ready for some fancy manoeuvring
3. Beware the delectable, exotic, too-good-to-be-true item on the menu--it likely is too good to be true

4. Laugh, whenever possible


Sunday, June 22, 2008

More Gas, Les!

On our way home after church last Sunday, we noticed some kids hurling stones at what we initially thought was a lizard. It turned out to be a chameleon doing his best, quite unsuccessfully, to hasten out of harm’s way. Of all God’s creatures, chameleons are undoubtedly among the pokiest as they always seem caught in the throes of ambulatory ambivalence! Every forward propelling motion is undone, at least in part, by an immediate backward reversal of that motion. Then it’s forward again--a little further this time--then backwards again, and so it goes. Watching them is the ultimate test in patience and I’m tempted to speed the pace by saying, “More gas!” (Suzanne’s solution for overcoming the slow portions of any journey). This little guy was going nowhere at an alarming rate and we knew he was doomed unless we intervened, so we started shouting and flailing our arms, “Whoooooaaaa! Hey, noooooo! Stop! Stop stop stop stop stop stop stopppp!” It took awhile to get the attention of the unruly little mob, but we finally managed. When the stones stopped flying, Dwight sprinted in to rescue the bruised but still alive “slow one”. Superstition abounds here regarding chameleons. It is believed that if they bite you, the wound will never heal, and if you’re the first to spot one, you’ll have years of bad luck. Dwight took a few minutes to explain to the gathering crowd that these timid little creatures are, in reality, quite harmless.

When we left for home that day, we decided to take the chameleon home with us rather than leave him with the untrusting crowd. That was when Michael dubbed him “Les”. Seemed fitting enough. He was an ultra-slow, “less gas” sort of guy :)

This is Les on my dad’s head, trying to get as high off the ground as possible. I think he was quite relieved when we released him into our yard to disappear into the world of green that surrounds us.

This week marked the nursing group’s final week with us and I think it turned out to be the most eventful time of all. There were 2 full days of community immunizations, health teaching at the grade school, time in the health post plus some presentations and debrief time. I was very interested to hear the presentations which included their assessments of local community’s health and possible interventions,

personal challenges faced by the students, etc. It was interesting to see my surroundings through their eyes.

What I found particularly heart-warming was the identification of personal challenges which are true for anyone taken from their home and placed in a totally foreign setting. It’s a learning curve whose impact always takes us quite by surprise, regardless of how well prepared we feel for an international experience! These pictures speak for themselves.

And no visit (by certain individuals) is complete without some special entertainment and a few pranks on the host missionaries. I think this serenade by firelight was an apology for the mischief to follow (like tying our doors shut on the night before departure). We took it in stride--this time.

Currently we’re headed back home to the bush after saying farewell to our friends and guests at the Beira airport. This coming week will prove to have a pace of its own as we prepare for the 2 day marathon drive to South Africa over the deteriorating N1 highway (my dad leaves from Joburg to return to Canada). The worse the road gets though, the slower the going. Or at least, that’s the usual response I encourage from the passenger’s seat with “Whoa..slower, slower!” But somehow, there’s an echo in my mind from the recent past...a voice from the back of the van saying, “More gas!”

Sunday, June 15, 2008


I think the word “appreciation” adequately describes one of the outcomes of last week’s events for the team of nursing students from Prairie (Canada). The week was kick-started by them spending 3 days in homes in the nearby local community. One of their objectives was to glean information about community health and there’s no better way to do that than to interact closely with one’s subject! So for each morning, from Monday to Wednesday, the students and instructors paired up to go spend the day in nearby homes participating in daily activities as rural Mozambicans do (at least as much as possible). They carried babies on their backs, pounded corn with a mortar and pestle, hauled water on their heads (ouch!), savoured local food, planted gardens, wove grass, etc. At the end of their experience they had a much better appreciation for the challenges the people here face in order to simply survive.
On Thursday last week we accompanied the staff from Vanduzi Hospital on a community vaccination blitz to Chitundo. There was a miscommunication about dates so attendance wasn’t as good as expected, but we drew a crowd regardless.
On Friday we excitedly headed out for our 2 day visit to Gorongosa National Park which is currently under restoration by the Carr Foundation. We set out on a game drive soon after our arrival and could practically taste elephants and lions, we wanted to see them so badly.

By the end of the drive, we'd seen a good number of baboons, warthogs and antelope, but elephant tracks was about as close as we got to the real thing! The spectacular sunset spoiled our disappointment though. Isn't it gorgeous?

On the following morning we (well, some of us) did manage to spot the backsides and flailing trunks of some elephants in flight as they dashed into the bushes at the sound of our vehicle. I guess they haven't forgotten their experience of being hunted during the war years here. And we've all heard about how elephants remember things forever right?

Saturday afternoon we headed to Chimoio for some shopping, then back home to the mission farm very thankful for a great time away.
Let me close this off with wishing all fathers a Happy Father's Day today--we appreciate you too!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Students, Grading and Chocolate Kisses

The team of nursing students from Prairie College (PCAAT) has been here for a week and what a full week it has been! For the first week, they’ve split into 2 teams: one focused on activities in the mission school, and one focused in the mission’s immediate community and the nearby Pina School.

Taking in some of the realities here can be a challenge, and this little boy with extensive 2nd degree burns was one of those this past week. We first saw him on Friday and Suzanne (one of the instructors), 2 of the students, and the socorristas tackled changing his dressings. On Saturday he was due for dressing changes again and I couldn’t help but take this picture of the clinic table half way through the procedure complete with nearly all of the prescribed essentials one needs in order to treat burns: Flamazine cream, sterile dressings, tensors, Flintstone vitamins, children’s Tylenol and Hershey’s Chocolate Kisses (for the patients, of course)!

And the perk of the day for this young man was a new pair of flashy shorts and a bright red Billabong T-shirt. (Eduardo, after his dressings were done, with his mom and little brother).

The grading that was done this past week had nothing at all to do with the students, by the way. After waiting for many, many months, our name finally rose to the top of the list to rent this grader to have our roads and the training center site contoured! The grader spent 3 days here crawling up and down our entry road transforming an otherwise bumpy ride into a relatively smooth one. The rearranging of soil transformed it from its relatively compact composition into heaps of fine, fluffy dirt (akin to icing sugar) which billows great clouds of dust every time a car drives over it, regardless of how slow it’s going. A bit of rain would be nice about now to pack it back in place, but hey, who’s complaining? Compared to the swamp these roads were this past December and the pain it was to get stuck in them, nicely contoured dust tracks are most certainly welcome!

As the grader worked to level the training centre site, it had to cut down about 75 cm along the top boundary which happened to have a termite mound nearby (the little hill behind Dwight and my dad). As it turned out, the mound’s base was much more extensive than we’d thought, rather like an iceberg, and the skimming off of the top layers of dirt revealed many tunnels and holes that these busy little guys had been mining, as we figured, for many years!

What’s amazing is that these termites are very small compared to their huge underground city (the little white “thing” in the below photo is a termite). What productivity! Hope they don’t mind us moving in on their territory.

Unloading clay roof tiles for our house, two tiles at a time. Progress on our house is on the back burner for awhile as we wait for wood for the trusses (there always seems to be something to slow things down).

I guess we should take our encouragement from the termites. Progress doesn't always race forward. Sometimes it only happens one small step at a time.