Saturday, September 26, 2009


Yesterday, September 25th, was a holiday in Mozambique “Dia das Forças Armadas”. Or as it was explained to me, “The day when the first shots were fired at Portuguese Colonialists back in 1964.” And so began the long, armed struggle for independence which begat the civil war which plunged the nation into dire poverty and disrepair. The peace accord that eventually silenced the guns and brought a halt to the destruction was signed in 1992, more or less 28 years later.

Thankfully, the day commemorating this important date was a quiet one for us. We got up at a leisurely pace and I was just settling down with my 2nd cup of coffee when someone arrived at our door. A local pastor came to ask if I could come see a sick gentleman who had apparently been sick for quite awhile with “a stomach thing” and had been here and there for treatment without much success. Experience has taught me that in such cases, I will likely have about the same degree of success since our rural bush clinics can only provide a basic level of care. But we counsel people, offer help or any relief we can, and pray for them if they would like.

One look at the gentleman’s thin limbs and swollen belly, and hearing his history, told me he suffered from cirrhosis of the liver. I’ve seen other cases in this area. We gave him some vitamins, encouraged him to follow up at the nearest hospital, prayed for him then gave him a ride home. When I got home I reviewed the condition. Again.

Cirrhosis is the irreversible, progressive destruction of the liver. Although this disease can be caused by chronic alcohol abuse, in Africa there are other common causes as well like:

1. Hepatitis B infection
2. Toxins ingested from badly stored grains or peanuts: (Few out here have the capacity to store grain “well”. You’re lucky if you can keep it from rats, goats and fire and you’re VERY lucky if your crop will feed you for an entire year.)
3. Schistosomiasis or Bilharzia: Where this disease exists, it is the most common cause of liver damage. It is present in the water of most if not all rivers in this part of the world and the fluke, or “worm”, easily penetrates human skin.

People here depend heavily on river water for bathing and use at home. Some communities now have access to well water, but some do not. Even so, there are measures they can take to make river water safe for use. In the Preventive Health manual I’m putting together for communities, I think I’ll highlight that section in red, underline it, italicize it and put it in bold! (But then, I'm tempted to do that with all the sections...)

Speaking of water (and struggle), this week the guys tackled swapping the old 5,000 Liter water tank on our stand to a 10,000 Liter tank. It was quite the event.

First, you build a structure out of logs, wire, nails and boards that is strong enough to support the shifting weight of a dangling, oversized PVC tank and several guys who will climb around pushing and pulling the tank, rearranging the poles, pounding nails, moving boards, etc.

Then, you tie strong rope
(It doesn’t look strong, but it is. Really. ☺) around and around the tank then up to the top center pole then down again into the hands of 2 gangs of men on either side of the stand. You could call this a “bush pulley system”. And everyone puuuuuulls!

Next, you may have to remedy a few things that slip, creak or just aren’t high enough by sending guys scrambling up the rather dubious scaffolding.

Here, Rick demonstrates safety-consciousness by tying himself to a pole while he works. (Look Dear, no hands!) Charles, on the other side, decided to try that but with wire instead. We at the bottom helped by shouting advice and warnings, gasping, getting sweaty palms and taking pictures (thanks for the photos Heather!)

Last, you have the finale where the “Patrão” (Dwight) goes to the very highest point to release the pulley anchor and secure water pipe fittings.

Ta da.

This post is getting long now so let me try to close quickly with a few last photos.

We visited a community this week that has a half-finished health post. They have requested our help in getting this up and running so the community has better access to health services. I can hardly wait to get tucked into this project!

While there, we also visited the home of a widower in poor health who had almost no food and 2 small kids to care for.
The littlest guy really didn’t like the looks of us at all. No matter how much we tried, and maybe because we tried, he either cried

or hid his face the whole time we talked.

This (below) is their current home which I doubt will make it through the rainy season.

First item on the agenda is (besides food and clothing) a better home with better food storage capabilities. The orphan/widow home below has a spare room that will come in handy.

Who knows? We may just coax a smile out of him.

Let's just hope it doesn't take 28 long years for that!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Smoke Signals

That’s nearly what we had to resort to this week in order to communicate with the rest of the world. It was either that or beat the bongos.

This was the week that our husbands were off in some far reaches of the country holding seminars and graduations, and Heather and I were left to “keep the home fires burning”. We did our best to keep that little expression as just that, since August to October are the months when all of Africa burns. About the last thing we needed to contend with while the guys were away was an out-of-control brush fire roaring through the mission farm.

We started off our week with a bang on Monday when internet quit working. Out here in the bush, there is no cable or telephone company to conveniently deliver internet to us. We run a number of components in order to “beam” it here ourselves.

1. A power generator for electricity (we do that for ourselves too)
2. A satellite dish (catches the signal)
3. A modem (transmits/sends signal)
4. Sundry cables
5. Wireless routers X 2 (in different locations)
6. Power cords

So when internet goes off, you methodically have to go through the system starting with power supply, the routers, modem, cables, etc. This entails a lot of walking from the house to the office and back. This is what I did on Monday, and after checking everything and rebooting the system several times, it was time to call our service provider in the UK.

Now, phoning from here is no straightforward matter either. We depend on cell phone coverage, but because our signal from the tower is weak, and because there is such a high a volume of traffic to cope with, calls often either:
1. Don’t go through. Period.
2. Go through but are shortly cut off.

What this means is that you can’t just stand in the office trouble shooting with the technician on the line. You have to take paper and pen in hand and go stand outside (maybe even drive the few km’s to the highway) to make the call. When/if the call goes through, you identify yourself and your whereabouts, describe the problem, write down suggestions, hang up, go back to the office, do what he says, see what happens, go back to good-cell-phone-reception-spot and call him back. This process must usually be done many times! On a good day, internet gets restored. On a bad day, like if your modem is fried, you have to wait for one to be shipped from overseas. By the end of Monday, it looked like we were headed for the latter category.

Life without signals is very quiet. Until you get a smoke signal, that is.

At noon on Wednesday, we noticed billows of smoke from an uncontrolled brush fire that had swept across the farm’s boundary. The staff all grabbed green leafy branches and ran to try to beat the flames back. Right then, as if on cue, Dwight and Rick drove in from their trip. I’m sure they’d seen the smoke from a long ways off and were hurrying to cover that last stretch home. They were exhausted from their trip but had to jump straight into firefighting!

It was a hot (+35C), dry, windy day, and the 10-15 foot leaping flames were just too menacing to tackle by hand.

So eventually an emergency firebreak was created by lighting the area between the approaching fire and us.

Lighting the fire break.

This kept the fire on the other side of the this ravine and helped save the main section of the farm where the tree plantations and buildings are. Unfortunately, most of the grazing area was burned to a crisp anyway. Even more sadly, several huts were burned to the ground. This is a sad thing that happens year after year because of uncontrolled brush fires.

Once the fire crisis had passed, it was time to tackle our internet problem again. Thankfully cell phone signal right outside the office was ok that day.

(Dwight, on the phone, in front of the satellite dish, by the office.)

For much of the time, it took one person outside making phone calls, one person inside the office doing the suggested system checks, and another person relaying messages between the two.
(Another decent cell signal reception spot.)

(Standing on the running board helps. The roof worked pretty good for note-taking too!)

Dwight and Glen (who arrived Tuesday) watching for "a sign" that signal transmission is taking place. I'm happy to say that eight hours later, the system was back up and running again.

Here's to hoping our internet signal stays.

And smoke signals stay away :)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Traveling In Convoy

NU (Nações Unidas—UN) vehicles traveling in convoy just outside Maputo, 1993. Taken from the dash of our trusty old Toyota, aka "The Beast".

Back in 1993-95, we traveled in convoy a lot here in Mozambique. That’s because Mozambique’s warring parties had only just signed the peace accord, and peace and order were not quite yet the order of the day. The illegal arms trade was alive and well and there was widespread banditry with frequent ambushes along the highways. So, for the sake of safety and like most everyone back then, whenever we made trips outside the city, we traveled in convoy with friends.

One fact about convoy travel is that the guy in front sets the pace. This can be tricky. I recall going on one particular weekend picnic trip with friends where we drove down a coastal road that ran perpendicular to the sand dunes. It was like riding a roller coaster and the guy leading the pack was going at a good clip (road conditions considered). We were bouncing around like jack-in-the-boxes in our Toyota pick-up cab, holding on for dear life. Our kids rode in the covered back, in proper seats with seatbelts of course. At one point we took a pit stop and got out to check on them (they were about 6 and 8 years old then) only to find picnic mats, coolers, chairs, etc. over-turned and in total disarray. Dwight commented on the mess to the kids and suggested they should have banged on the window to get our attention to stop or something. Their eyes went wide at this and they exclaimed, “But Dad! We were hangin’ on, just trying to survive!” And boy, if that just doesn't sum up our first few years in Mozambique.

I'm happy to say that after that, the convoy moved a bit slower.

Our kids hanging in the door of the old Toyota (1993). It was like their 2nd home.

I share this because on Wednesday this week while at the Mozambique/South Africa border, on our return home, we bumped into a long-time friend. It turned out that we were all headed the same direction so he suggested we follow him on an unpaved road that was a short cut that by-passed Maputo. “It’s a dirt road and it’s pretty bad in some spots but it will cut about 50 km off your trip.” We decided to do it and followed each other convoy-style, each taking his turn in the lead. He was right; the trip was shorter and the road did have bad spots. We bounced around like jack-in-the-boxes. But even though we groaned here and there, we couldn’t help but smile as we reminisced about those early years experiences in Mozambique.

Oddly enough, on day 2 of our trip home we ended up in a convoy situation once again (without meaning to) when we caught up to some slow travelers. Someone, obviously of importance, was being escorted somewhere and in true fashion for these parts, the police vehicle lead the procession with blue lights flashing on top, 6 armed men in the back and the siren screaming a medley of “Wee-o-wee-o-wee-o, Doo-do-doo-do-doo-do, Wow-wow-wow-wow, Ta-da-da-da-da-da-da-da.” The 3 vehicles that followed were flashing their hazard lights.

Now, normally if you want to get past slower traffic, you just pass. Not so with these guys. That would be very disrespectful and we may be perceived as a threat to security. So we followed them, in convoy, for many kilometers, over both smooth and bumpy roads.

Thankfully, they eventually turned off and we were free to travel at ease.

This morning, after just one day at home, Dwight (with Rick) packed up for another road trip to do more leadership training in remote areas while Heather and I stayed home. Can’t say I feel bad about missing out on another road trip.

Next week we anticipate the arrival of our first of four short termers who are due to arrive over the next few months. The extra hands will be great with kids at the school, getting photos/info updated, helping with the health program, etc. There will be many other jobs and interesting experiences as well. I can’t promise traveling in convoy will happen (although it could), but a ride over bumpy roads is pretty much a given. ☺

Sunday, September 06, 2009

It freezes. It burns.

It twinges, stabs, sears and does the “pins and needles” thing too. A scorpion sting, that is.

Last week, after 13 years of bush living, I experienced my very first scorpion sting (not from the one pictured above). It happened while I was busy grabbing wood to make a fire in our donkey

which is a non-electric, non-gas, hot water geyser we use in the bush. There's a metal drum inside there which you can't see.

Anyway, when I picked up the 3rd piece of wood—zap! Initially I thought I had a nasty splinter. But when I pulled my hand away I could find no splinter, just a small, painful pin prick at the end of my little finger. My first thought was “Ooouuuuuch!” and my 2nd thought was “scorpion”! I searched to see if I could find him, but he must have retreated beneath the loose bark because I could see nothing. I beat the small log on our sidewalk, even threw it down. All that fell out was dirt.

To my knowledge scorpion stings in our area are not fatal, so I set about treating myself. We do a lot of self-treatment out here. I’ve read about and heard lots of advice for scorpion stings…like:

#1. “Put ice on it immediately.”
To be effective, this must be done within seconds of the sting. Not after you’ve first examined your finger to make sure there weren’t two puncture wounds* then banged the wood repeatedly for 3-5 minutes to search for the miserable little critter who’s tucked very safely away, then flung the wood into the fire in a final act of vengeance. Actually, Dwight did that for me. (*Two puncture holes would have raised the fang mark, aka snake bite, alert…also a very real possibility). Anyway, I missed the small window of opportunity of immediate icing, by a long shot.

#2. “Dip the bite in gasoline, it’ll draw the pain out immediately.”
Ok, I heard this many years ago and it swifly came to mind. I doubt you’ll find this treatment suggested in medical literature, though I don’t think it would do serious harm either so long as you didn’t stand beside the donkey fire to do it. Either way, I had no gasoline on hand. Pass.

#3. “Wash well with soap and water.”
Check. (Because medical people wash everything with soap and water.)

#4. “Administer an antihistamine—orally (pill) or topically (salve)”.

(One day, when I have an office, I won’t have to store meds in the kitchen with my baking utensils ☺)

Check. Two outta 3 ain’t bad. But by this time, it was (to use the local term) “paining me” quite badly.

#4. “Inject local anesthetic into bite area, if needed, to control pain.” AAaaagghhh...wha-a-a-a-at?! That would be like a double sting and would “pain” very VERY badly. I cringed at the thought and realized that my sting must be quite mild compared to others. Pass.

For about 4 days, my pinkie “pained”, as described at the top of this post, and was useless to the rest of my hand. Thankfully, now at day 7, just a bit of numbness remains. And I'm alive. :)

Moving along, I’m pleased to say that Dwight finally arrived home Saturday night, quite tired though from his travels. (Click here to read his updated blog post.) Between unpacking and, sadly, being called on by a local family to transport the body of a loved one who passed away, his Sunday wasn’t particularly relaxing. (And then there was the scorpion sting thing :P) I’m also sad to say that the very sick mommy of the tiny baby (previous post) died last week as well. We will trust for the best for the little one in her granny’s care.

Monday and Tuesday were a flurry of activity following up on stuff and problem solving. Socorrista Ernesto and I made a few widow/orphan home health visits. Here is a photo of Mae Farese, with her daughter who is blind (and friends), in front of their new home.

(When construction was just beginning. Living hut in background.)

Her leg is now better and she’s able to get around on her crutches again. Yay. They’re pretty anxious to get moved in. Just waiting on windows and doors.

On Wednesday, it was time for Dwight and I to pack yet again for a very short trip to South Africa to have vehicle maintenance done, computer’s repaired, saws sharpened, office supplies purchased, dr’s & dentist visits, construction supplies picked up, mail box checked etc.

On our way down, we came across some brush fires. It’s that season again.

We stopped for a few photos and I noticed some beautiful Lilac-Breasted Rollers darting across, up and down and on and off the road.

At first I thought it was because their nests were being burned (also a possibility) but then I noticed they were actually catching insects scurrying across the highway to escape the fire. I remember now that these birds, like many others, eat scorpions once they’ve beaten them around for awhile in their beaks to kill them (who wants to get stung in the mouth??).

You go bird!

(above photo at