Saturday, August 29, 2009

Big Shoes To Fill

It’s been one of those crazy kinds of weeks with its fair share of strange happenings and stories. Sometimes I experience the strange events myself, and other times I just hear about them. And then there are those times when the two come together, like earlier this week.

Rick had had malaria all week so Heather and I decided to check on how work at the bridge was coming along. Now, if you were to take all the knowledge that Heather and I have about bridge construction and put it together in one place, there wouldn’t be much to sneeze at. But we had some guidance from our husbands and were willing to wear the supervisory “big shoes" even if just briefly. Besides, we wanted to take some photos (because we always want to take photos).

The sun was hot and time was of the essence so we decided to drive instead of walk to the bridge. When we were done taking photos and seeing how the guys were doing, we left.

On the way home, we came across 2 fairly petite grannies walking barefoot toward us. We knew the one woman, Milicina. She cares for her orphaned grandson and has been in the mission’s widow/orphan program for several years now. The other woman was carrying a very tiny 10-day-old baby.

I stopped so we could greet the women. When we asked who the baby’s mom was, the lady carrying it said,

“This is my daughter’s baby. She’s very sick at home and cannot nurse it.”

Apparently, her daughter had been very sick for a while with what I guessed to be pneumonia. Their home was a stiff 4-hour hike along a footpath into the bush. The daughter was too weak and sick to come for help and vehicles could not get to where she was. (The “strange story” part is that apparently the daughter “belongs to a spirit” and this, they believe, is why she is sick and has been relegated to live in the far reaches of the bush.)

After some urging, they agreed to come with us to the health post to have the baby weighed

(1.750 kilos!) and to get some milk. We sent medicine home for the baby’s mother as well with a plan to follow-up.

(The two grannies, Simon, Celestino, and Heather holding baby)

When we were done, we brought the grannies as far as we could by car then watched as they picked their way, barefoot, along the long path that leads home. And I thought: What big shoes they have to fill--these who have such heavy responsibilities in such difficult circumstances.

This is Milicina with her grandson. In this photo, he had just received new clothes bought with money that a young boy in Canada sent. This Canadian boy runs a small business with his grandpa, and when he heard about and saw pictures of needy kids in Mozambique, he decided right then and there that he wanted to help. And so, one little boy helped another. Now THAT’s the kind of story I like to hear!

And with that, I will sign off. Dwight gets back home this evening and I still have some responsibilities to tend to. Small ones, by comparison, but responsibilities nonetheless.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Distance, relationships, and swine flu

A few months back when we were in Canada, swine flu (H1N1) was spreading and people were alarmed. This cartoon, that did the rounds on internet, made me smile.

Information was feverishly gathered and shared, and we all calculated our risk of exposure. In many cases, if you had been exposed to the virus, you were barred from your work place. Common concerns were “When should I go to emergency?” or “What is considered a ‘safe distance’ from others who may be infected?” and so on. If someone sneezed or coughed, a step or two back was in order. And we were all okay with it because we agreed…we didn’t want THAT flu!

In Mozambique, however, things have been fairly quiet regarding swine flu. Until earlier this week that is, when we heard that the first case had just been confirmed in Maputo. That same day while I was in our carpentry shop looking for varnish and paint brushes, one of the guys asked, “Senhora? We have a question. We heard on the radio about “Gripe Suína”. What is that?” It took my mind a split second to equate gripe suína with swine flu. Aah yes…it was time to prepare some swine flu fact sheets and get teaching underway.

By Friday morning the socorristas (health care workers) were well enough prepared to share the facts with the other 30 or 40 mission staff. Now, there are a number of the guidelines for helping to prevent the spread of the disease—one is to maintain a “safe distance” from people if they or you have symptoms. When the teaching was done, we had a question time. I expected questions related to disease severity, symptoms or treatment but got some unusual ones instead like:

“Why is its other name ‘H1N1’?” (Scientists…go figure ☺)

Then one of the guys asked this one, and I thought about it for a long time afterwards:

“So, we should maintain a 'safe distance' if someone has symptoms? But what if that someone is my friend? If I treat him that way, that’s not good.” He looked down and shook his head slowly and thoughtfully and repeated, “That's no good at all.” The others clicked their tongues, shook their heads and voiced their agreement. You see, a person can recover from many illnesses. But out here where hard times and tragedy are commonplace, without good relationships, you just won’t make it.

“These are guidelines” I said, “Review the information. Think about it. Talk about it. Surely the rest of the stuff is ok? Like sneezing and coughing into your sleeve instead of using your hand?”

There was a swift change in the mood as they guffawed at the thought of this. Then one guy got up and, smirking, moved far away from the coughing friend he had been sitting beside. Then they doubled up in laughter. Har, har har! That was very funny. I figure these jokes carried on for much of that day. Positive reinforcement is always good :)

Other news:

Plans are in place to take one of the mission’s sponsored students (in above photo) on a medical trip to South Africa in November. He will be seeing a surgeon (who has kindly offered the first consultation free of charge) regarding possible surgery to remove burn scar tissue that has crippled his upper body since he was a toddler. He is on the right in the above photo. On the left is João, who receives sponsorship to attend university in Maputo. They are both studious and hard working and they make our hearts proud.

This week Dwight has been visiting leadership schools in several remote areas in neighbouring provinces. Oh the joys of pack, pack, packing the essentials like: small generator, fuel, lights, extension cord, tools, food, medicine kit, sleeping bag/pillow, dishes, utensils, camp chairs, and so on.

Making it fit is also fun :/

Sure makes for a rather quiet house when it’s just me and the pets (who spend most of their time sleeping). But I don't mind, and anyway, I'm hardly alone. This is Mozambique and we have friendly neighbours all around. Not to mention that my closest neighbours, Rick and Heather, are so close we can talk to each other while standing on our owndoorsteps. Thankfully, that’s a safe distance to sneeze from too, although we trust we won’t need to worry about that just yet.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Small Stuff

“Don’t sweat the small stuff!” we often hear. Wise words, sometimes. But the way I see it, small stuff is what the big stuff is made of, and big stuff is stressful! So although “not sweating it” is good, if you can do that, sometimes you need to do more. Here are some of my week’s “small stuff” experiences.

#1: A very small thing, a flu virus, took me out of commission for an inordinate amount of time (considering how microscopically small a virus is) early this week. Now, one doesn’t exactly “not sweat” a virus ‘cause one is usually quite miserable. One prays and waits, usually flat in bed, until one feels better. Thankfully after a few days, I found my feet again. Wobbly though they were.

#2: A couple brought a 2-year-old girl to me who had pushed a seed up her nose. The parents had unsuccessfully tried to dislodge it (with a pin? I was told) and finally came for help. While we talked, the child looked at me with round, fearful eyes. She’d suffered already on account of that silly seed and I don’t think she wanted my help at all! There was screaming and tears as I checked things out with my otoscope. Her little nose was pretty inflamed, so the plan was treat with anti-inflammatories and antibiotics and “not sweat too much” about it while things settled down a bit. I gave her parents some ideas of at-home (non-invasive) things they could try along with instructions to bring her back if those didn’t work.

After a day or two they returned to say that although things were improving, the seed was still there. This meant it was time to do something further, so I got my otoscope again. Again the child went wide-eyed when she saw me and started screaming. This time I had a pair of blunt-nosed tweezers in my other hand and when the mom noticed them she said, “We didn’t have tweezers like that at home to work with. If I had them I think I could get it out.” The dad smiled at the squirming, crying child and added, “When she’s asleep she’s very still.” I was still struggling with my post-flu-aches and knee-wobble at that point and her suggestion sounded good to me.

“OK” I said “but be very gentle and make sure you don’t push it in further.”

Next morning the father walked up to me triumphantly after devotions and smiling ear to ear announced, “Madam*…it came OUT!”

Here’s the seed and the kind of pod it comes from. It’s a tree seed. Talk about the potential to get big!

Case #3: For the past few months, there have been some conflicts brewing between two neighbours in the nearby community. They both receive help from the mission, which is why it came to our attention. So last week we called a meeting between the neighbours to discuss the issues that have been “sweated over” (for too long) but not dealt with. As it is many times, there had been one underlying offense but the remaining issues were "small" ones like pesky goats wandering where they shouldn’t...

and a dried fish that went missing from someone’s home.

We all talked for quite awhile then eventually apologies were uttered, Bible verses shared and prayers said.

A few days later I saw the one neighbour and asked if things were any better between them. She smiled big and said, “Ahhh, yes! Everything is good! All that stuff is gone now.” I do trust so.

So here are my "notes to self" regarding small stuff:

1. Ignore it, if you can
2. Pray and wait, so long as waiting is ok
3. Deal with it soon, when ignoring and waiting are not options, because small things tend to have “big thing” potential.

Other news:

Dwight made a flight to Marromeu this week to make a small delivery of legal documents to a pastor who is working on adoption papers for Tendai, the little girl that Rick and Heather are fostering. Yet another example of small things with big potential!

And since my legs are no longer wobbly, I’ll get some updated photos to post here of current near-by construction projects:

Bridge sides going up. It's hard to get a picture of both sides, but the side you see has a mirror image just beyond where our dog, Mushu, is.

Mercy Air's house foundations got poured this week.

Steps in our backyard that we've been so impressed with. These were built by a bricklayer that has been with us practically since day 1 (13 years). He doesn't perform well with tape measures, levels and straight edges, but let him exercise some creativity with stone and cement! He's so proud of himself and we're proud of him. :)


*Madam: This is a commonly used term of respect here.

Friday, August 07, 2009


Actually, it really wasn’t the most smiling kind of week. It was crazy busy, internet didn’t work, people were sick, conflicts needed resolving, blister beetles had to sting, the truck got stuck, we ran out of water pipe connections for our house, etc., etc. But as Dwight and I sat together on Friday evening discussing the week’s challenges, he wrapped things up by saying that despite the many bumps, he was “smiling on the inside”. And I knew that I was too.

The recipe for “inner smiling” that we came up with quite a few years ago consists of:

1. Being in the right place
2. At the right time
3. Doing the right thing.

On Monday this week, there was much to be said about being in the right place and smiling, when Mozambique’s president visited the nearby town of Vanduzi. It was quite the event and everyone...

and everything...

turned out to welcome the nation’s #1 man. This is a “Nyau” cultural dancer. We can’t see his face but maybe he’s smiling inside there too?

The mission was invited, by local authorities, to please attend the event (we’d planned to anyway). What we didn’t know is that they had reserved a place for about 7 of us in the greeting line—to shake hands with the president! The beginning of the line is to the left.

These men in uniform are local community leaders and chiefs.

Then to our right, starting with the man in the grey suit, stood the war vets in plain clothes.

After 6 choppers landed, the President finally emerged and walked across the field toward the head of the line.

I had the "ok" to go ahead and snap photos, so I ignored some stares from security men with big guns :)

I won't post all the play-by-play photos of hand-shaking because there are just so many. But the next few were pretty special.

Dwight exchanges greetings with the president (in the cream-coloured shirt). We felt pretty honoured to be right there at that point in time!

And I’d say the same is true here for Tendai, an orphan girl that Rick and Heather are in the process of fostering to adopt. I mean really, how many kids get held by Mr. President??

Afterwards, there was lots toasting Mozambique-style, with Coke, Fanta and Sprite. (below: some of the mission staff)

And of course, more photo taking.

Dwight and Francois pose with the traditional chief of our area.

Me with the little girl who stole the whole show for a few moments.

The mission, as a member of the community, contributed toward preparing and decorating the landing/greeting area.

Moving along...

Actually, there were many reasons to smile this week. One was the fact that the foundations for the bridge (on the road to the airstrip) got poured. Getting this job done before the onslaught of the rainy season is very important.

Although I couldn't capture them all, here are a few other smiles of the week:

Food delivery...

and clothes for orphan kids.

I'll close for now.

Keep smiling. Especially on the inside.

(Photo credits: Thanks Heather for the Nyau Dancer, Tendai and I, possibly others? And thanks to Joao and Simon for some of the other great shots too.)

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Elements of House Building

First, you make walls by putting bricks on top of each other. (This is "Mae Farese's" new home where she and her blind daughter will live. Mae Farese has only one leg and depends on crutches to get around. She is on the mission's "Orphan/Widow Mercy Program").

In the background is Mae Farece's current home. It got a new thatched roof last year but the basic structure was showing signs of strain (aka: the mud walls were falling apart). Funds came in for a proper home for her and she is so thrilled to get a strong house!

But her hut wasn't the only thing having trouble. Mae Farese recently had a nasty wound on her only leg and this left her fairly immobilized. Here, Simon does the daily home visit and dressing for her using a bag of Normal Saline for cleansing, which the Prairie team brought. This "hi-tech" procedure drew curious onlookers every day. Once the dressing is finished, it's prayer time then goodbyes are said until the following day. I'm happy to say that as of yesterday, one week after her daily visits, Mae Farese is finally able to stand and walk again on her leg.

In the above photos, pastors and local area leaders visit the mission's training center which is currently under construction. Just as Mae Farese's new home already has a dweller who is anxiously awaiting the completion of the new building, this training center has people who are anxiously awaiting its completion as well. Anxious, but patient.

In the meantime, pastors and monitors who attend the Intensive Seminars sleep in tents, study under the trees in the campsite, and eat under the clear blue sky.

But bricks are only a part of what house building is all about. People, and in this case pastors/monitors, churches, and the communities they serve, have other needs too.

Here, monitors receive matching funds for orphan programs that we have a long-standing relationship with.

As well as training manuals for church leaders who these monitors provide training for,

...and Bibles, and an herbal (Artemisinin) tea for the initial treatment of malaria symptoms (with further instructions to seek medical attention ASAP, of course).

plus materials for the women's literacy classes (being handed out here by Alta).

And speaking of houses and building and such, most of the classes this year were conducted on the veranda of our house, which is currently under construction! It sure beat sitting under those trees, and there's nothing better than making use of a structure as soon as possible :)

Certificate ceremony after the week-long intensive seminar.

And while classes were being held on the veranda and in the guest room, tiling carried on in our bedroom. As quietly as possible, of course, so as not to disturb those trying to concentrate on their studies.

In closing let me not forget the bug/reptile portion which always comes at the end.

While picking my way through the rocks in the yard to take photos of the monitors and their certificates, I came upon these reptilian fellows. I'm guessing these rocks, in our future yard, have been their homes for quite awhile then?

Hmmm. Interesting neighbours, no?

Oh, don't worry (those of you with plans to visit us once we're in the house). They're in the yard, sillies...not the GUEST ROOM!